Authors: Richard Matheson
Chris looked into the rear view mirror, then pressed down on the accelerator. They should make Latigo Canyon in fifteen minutes, he calculated. Surely, Adam and Steve would wait. He cleared his throat. They’d wait. He was right, he had to be. They
planning to use him. Hurting Connie would end that and they knew it. At least Adam must know it.
“Before you came to the store,” he said, “I phoned your mother.” From the corner of his eye, he saw her looking at him. “I was going to tell you that I’d decided to call the police.”
She didn’t answer.
“I know it seems pointless now,” he said, “but I
going to.” His hands clenched on the rim of the wheel. “And, after we get Connie,” he said, “I’ll call them.”
Still she said nothing. Chris felt himself tightening, wanting her to speak. Then he realized that she could think only of Connie. After Connie was safe, she’d respond. Chris pressed his lips together. After Connie was safe. He fixed that in his mind.
Eighteen and a half minutes later, he was turning the car into the entrance of Latigo Canyon.
Automatically, he reached up and pressed a hand over his inside coat pocket He could feel the rubber-banded clump of bills. Three thousand dollars. The result of almost four years’ saving. Chris clenched his teeth. If only he’d phoned the police the night before, not only would Connie be safe, but Helen would have this money while he was gone. He felt a sudden stab of contempt for himself. It was true, what she’d said. For his own protection, he’d allowed this situation to occur.
There were no sounds of traffic now, only those of the Ford as he guided it up the tortuously curving road: the laboring mutter of its engine, the squeak of its constantly twisted tires. Behind them, the
highway sank into the low-hanging fog. Ahead, the mountains loomed grey and green.
Somewhere among them was Connie.
“He didn’t say any more about where he’d meet us?” he asked.
“No,” she said, “He just said bring the money.”
Chris pressed down on the accelerator as they reached a length of straight road. His gaze jumped ahead, looking for a sign of the black sedan. What if they missed each other? He fought off the terror of the thought. Adam wouldn’t miss them. He needed the money too much.
The ocean had disappeared from view now. The car was surrounded by the silent mountains. Los Angeles
a strange city, Chris thought distractedly. Fifteen minutes from the most populated places were spots of absolute wilderness. Spots where a person could disappear within minutes of his home and never be found again.
He started from his thoughts and glanced at her.
“There’s a car following us,” she said.
His gaze jerked up to the rear view mirror.
“Is it them?”
Chris swallowed. “Yes,” he said.
The sedan was about fifty yards behind them, following unhurriedly. Bracing himself, Chris guided the Ford to the side of the road and braked it. Suddenly, he wished he’d brought Cliff’s gun; and, suddenly, remembered the clipping that had fallen out of Cliff’s pocket. Adam and Steve had already killed during their escape. They had nothing to lose by killing again. The avoidance of capture was all that mattered now. He shuddered. Had he made another blind mistake? Was he endangering Helen’s life now?
The sedan moved past them.
“What!” Chris stared at it incredulously. Adam was driving.
“What’s he doing?” Helen asked, her voice shrill.
“I don’t—” Chris broke off and shot his hand out for the ignition key. Twisting it, he started the motor, then, releasing the hand brake, put the transmission into drive and gunned off the shoulder so quickly that the wheels spun once before catching. Gravel rasped beneath the car, spattering off the underframe. Then the car was jolting forward onto the road, starting after the sedan which was just disappearing around a curve.
The Ford wheeled creakingly around the curve, then leveled off. Ahead, the sedan moved on leisurely. Chris blew out breath through gritting teeth. Was Adam playing with them? He shuddered with rage. So help me God, he thought, if you’ve done anything to Connie…
Three minutes later, Adam turned into a side road and stopped. Chris pulled up behind him and braked hard. Switching off the engine, he jerked on the hand brake.
“Stay here,” he said. He got out of the car and started toward the sedan. Adam made no motion to get out. He sat with his back turned to Chris. Chris looked into the car anxiously. As he’d expected, Steve and Connie weren’t in it. He stopped by the front window and looked in at Adam. The revolver was on Adam’s lap, close to his right hand.
“I didn’t think it was a very good idea to stop on the main road,” Adam said, smiling.
“Where is she?”
Adam extended his left hand, palm up.
“Where is she, Adam?”
Reaching into his pocket shakily, Chris jerked out the clump of bills and tossed it on Adam’s lap.
she?” he demanded.
Adam removed the rubber band from the bills and started counting the money.
“Adam, for God’s sake!”
“She’s well, she’s well,” said Adam, casually, his eyes on the money. “Steve’s taking care of her.”
Adam wet his finger and continued counting. Chris stood watching him, his heart thudding slowly and heavily.
“It’s all there,” he said.
“Shh-shh-shh.” Adam gestured impatiently.
It took another minute for him to finish. Then he nodded. “Very good,” he said. He looked at Chris in amusement. “Contract fulfilled,” he said, sliding the bills into his pocket.
“Now where is she?”
Adam reached out and pushed the starter button. The sedan’s engine ground over twice, then caught. Chris looked at Adam, startled. “What are you—?”
Adam reached for the gear shift.
“What are you doing?”
Adam smiled at him. “We’ll be seeing you,” he said. The car started moving.
Chris acted without thinking. As the sedan rolled forward, he jerked open the front door and reached in.
Adam grunted in surprise, snatching downward at his gun. Before he could reach it though, Chris had grabbed his coat and started dragging him off the seat. Adam swung out wildly with his left hand and missed. Abruptly, moving with the car, Chris stumbled on a rock. As he fell, his fingers clamped on Adam’s coat and, in an instant, the two men were sprawled on the road, the pistol landing near them.
The sedan kept rolling.
Chris got an instant’s view of Helen pushing out of the Ford as he straightened up. Then Adam’s fist was clubbing at the side of his head, Adam was pushing to his knees, a dirty scrape across his left cheek. He was looking for the pistol, seeing it, lunging for it.
Before he could reach it, Chris was on him. The two men rolled and tumbled in the dirt, dust scaling up around them. Chris’s foot kicked out at the pistol and sent it bouncing away. Adam reached for it but Chris pulled him around and slammed a fist into his jaw. Adam, half standing, reeled backward, stumbled and fell down heavily on his side.
He was starting up when they heard the grating sound. Instinctively, both men looked down the road in time to see the sedan going over the edge of the canyon rim, its back end flipping up, hanging suspended for a moment, then disappearing.
“Son of a bitch!”
Chris went flailing back as Adam dove at him. They went crashing into the road again, Chris gasping as he landed on a small rock. He flung up his arms as Adam began hitting his face. He tried to roll the heavier man off but couldn’t. He grabbed at Adam’s right hand but the left struck on his upper cheek, driving jagged streaks of pain into his eye. Hissing, he lurched his body upward, shifting Adam to one side. He pushed at Adam violently, Adam lost his balance and had to reach to the side for support. As he did, Chris jerked in his left leg, got the foot against Adam’s side and shoved as hard as he could. Adam thrashed over onto the road.
He was barely on his feet when Chris hit him. His face went blank for a second, then he was swinging back, his blow glancing off Chris’s temple. Chris swung again, his left fist driving into Adam’s stomach. Adam sucked in gagging breath, his swing missed Chris entirely.
Chris grabbed the pistol from the ground.
,” he gasped.
Adam shrank back, wincing, as he saw the pistol pointed at him.
Chris’s finger loosened on the trigger and he drew in a long, body-shaking breath. Helen ran over to him.
“Chris, don’t—” she said.
“Where is she?” he asked Adam.
Adam looked at him, one hand pressed across his stomach, the other leaning on the ground.
Adam spit into the dirt.
“No, you won’t.” Adam stood up slowly, an expression of baleful contempt on his face. “You haven’t got it, Chris.”
Chris stepped forward and slammed the pistol barrel across Adam’s forehead. With a surprised grunt, Adam stumbled back and fell.
“Where is she, I said!”
The contempt was gone from Adam’s features now. Only hatred remained.
“I’ll kill you for that,” he said.
Before he’d finished the sentence, Chris had stepped forward and driven the barrel across his head again. Adam went crashing onto his back and pushed up, gasping, feeling at the welted scrape on his forehead.
“You don’t believe me, do you?” Chris spoke in a low, trembling voice. “Well, you’d better, Adam. You’d
. What freedom means to you, my kid means to me. You’d kill for freedom, I’d kill for her.”
“Go to hell, you son of a—”
Chris hit him again, then fell on one knee beside the dazed man. Hauling him up by his jacket, he shoved the pistol underneath his jaw, the barrel end pressing at his throat.
“You tell me now,” he said, “
You tell me where she is or get your filthy head blown off
Adam’s face went pale. “No, don’t,” he said.
“Where is she?”
“In the canyon. A shack.”
“Down the road. Not far. There’s a dirt lane.”
“You’ll take us there.”
Adam swallowed with effort and pushed the pistol away from his throat. “All right,” he muttered.
Chris shoved him back and stood. “Get up,” he said.
Adam got up slowly.
“I guess I underestimated you,” he said. There was no admiration in his voice, only self-criticism.
“Yes, I guess you did,” said Chris. He gestured toward the Ford. “Go on,” he said.
Adam turned and started walking unsteadily, brushing at his clothes.
“Chris.” She came up beside him and took his arm.
“We’ll get her now,” he said.
As they started walking, Chris was conscious of her looking at him. He glanced aside and managed a smile.
“It’ll be all right now,” he said.
“What happened, Chris? Why did you—?”
“He was going to leave with the money.”
“You mean he wasn’t going to—?”
“No.” He glanced at her as she caught her breath.
“It’s all right, Helen. We’ll get her now.”
“Chris, shouldn’t we get the police first?”
“There’s no time. Steve is probably wondering already what happened to Adam. We have to go there right away.”
She looked at him and he thought he knew what she was thinking.
“I’ll call them afterward,” he said.
“I didn’t mean that.”
As they walked past the canyon edge, Chris could see the sedan at the bottom. It was lying on its side, its upper wheels still turning slowly. It was fortunate it hadn’t caught fire.
“Toss back the money,” he told Adam.
Adam took the bills out of his jacket pocket and tossed it back without a word. Chris pointed at it and Helen stooped to pick it up. She slipped it into her coat pocket.
Adam was waiting by the car.
“Get in the back,” Chris told him.
Adam opened the front door and pushed the seat forward. Bending over, he stepped into the back of the car and sat down. Chris waited until he was settled, then, slowly, cautiously, sat down in the front seat, half-turned around so he could watch Adam.
“You drive,” he told Helen.
“All right.” She got in quickly and shut the door. Leaning over, she switched on the engine.
“Well?” asked Chris when they were back to the main road.
“Keep going inland,” Adam said.
Chris heard Helen draw in a quick breath. “Is she all right?” she asked in a stiffly controlled voice.
Chris looked at Adam. “She asked you a question,” he said.
“She’s all right.”
“She’d better be,” Chris told him.
Adam had regained his poise by now. He smiled thinly at Chris.
“Quite the hero, aren’t we?” he said.
Chris was silent.
“Planning to turn us over to the police?” asked Adam.
Chris only looked at him.
Adam smiled. “You, of course, realize what will happen when you do.”
Chris said nothing and the smile faded from Adam’s face.
“You’ll go to prison,” he said, coldly.
“And you’ll go to the gas chamber,” said Chris.
Adam seemed to tense forward and Chris raised the pistol. The sight of it seemed to relax Adam rather than caution. He leaned back, smiling again.
“Don’t worry,” he said, casually, “I won’t give you cause to shoot me. I plan to live for a long time.”
“Good luck,” said Chris.
“The turn is just around this bend ahead,” said Adam.
They all sat quietly until the car had turned off the road onto a narrow, rutted lane.
“Stop,” said Chris. Helen pushed in the brake and the Ford came to a halt.
“How far down is it?” asked Chris.
“A hundred yards or so,” said Adam.
Chris looked at him a moment, then, abruptly, pulled up the door handle and pushed outside.
“We’ll walk,” he said.
Adam shrugged. “Up to you,” he said.
“Come out slowly,” Chris told him.
“Very slowly,” said Adam. He sounded as if he were almost enjoying the situation now. He pushed the seat forward and leaned over to get out of the car.