Authors: Jim Thompson
Rudy stared at her steadily, not answering. The knowing smile on her face wavered a little, but she slid off the stool and came across the aisle. She started to step up into the stall where Rudy lay. Without the slightest change of expression, he kicked her in the stomach; watched unwinking, as she landed floundering and groaning in the straw of the aisle.
She staggered to her feet, gasping, eyes tear-washed with anger and pain. She asked furiously just what was the big idea anyway? Just who the hell did he think he was anyway? Then, weakly, as he continued to stare at her in silence, she began to weep.
"I d-didn't do anything. I-I tried to be n-nice, and do what you wanted me to do, and y-you…"
She was overwhelmed with self-pity. Blindly, as though drawn by a magnet, she came close to Rudy again. And he hooked her, stumbling, into the stall with his foot, brought her down on her knees with a yank of a viselike hand. The hand went to the back of her head. Her mouth crushed cruelly against his. She gasped and struggled for a moment; then, with a greedy moan, she surrendered, squirming and pressing her softness against him.
Abruptly, Rudy pushed her away. "You get the idea?" he said. "When I tell you to do something, you do it. Fast! Think you can remember that?"
"Oh, yes," she said, eyes glowing softly. "Anything you say, Rudy. You just tell me and-and whatever it is-I'll…"
He told her what she was to do. Then, as she looked at him, face falling, he pointed up the command with a twist of her arm. "Now, hop to it," he said. "Get that red paint off your claws. It's making me sick."
Doc confronted him abruptly. "All right, mister," he said. "I'll just-" His hand grasped for the bag, almost gripped the handle. The thief twisted it, yanked, and trotted back down the platform. Doc strode after him.
He had made a mistake, he knew. Back there in the station he should have shouted at the thief, shouted that he was a thief. In which case the man would certainly have dropped the bag and fled. But he had been afraid to call out, had even believed that it wouldn't be necessary. Caught red-handed, the thief would-or should-hightail it.
Unfortunately, the man was as unobliging as he was discerning. He had stolen this tall gent's bag, or his wife's bag. The wife had been nervous as all hell about it, and now this guy, her husband, was making no outcry at all. That must be because he couldn't.
So the thief made off, taking the bag with him. More than a little hopeful that Doc would not risk pursuing him. As much exultant as dismayed when he saw Doc was right after him. This must be something big that he had latched onto. And with Doc unable to squawk, he stood a good chance of getting away with it. Or at least part of it. He could demand a split of whatever the bag contained.
The thief was very cocksure, it should be said; in his particular branch of crime, he had to be. Also- and it is hardly necessary to point this out-he had known no criminals of Doc McCoy's caliber.
Only two doors of the train were open, one in the Pullman section, the other to admit coach passengers. The thief approached the latter, squeezing himself in line behind an elderly couple. The conductor stopped them as they started to climb aboard.
"Tickets, tickets, please," he intoned impatiently. "See your ticket, lady, mister."
It developed that the tickets were at the bottom of the lady's handbag. While she fumbled for them anxiously, the thief eased around her and got a foot on the steps.
"Ticket? Ticket, mister?" the conductor called to him.
But the thief was already in the car.
The conductor glowered. The elderly woman produced one of the two necessary tickets, then, pawing for the other, she spilled a handful of small change onto the platform. Immediately she and her husband stooped to gather it up. The conductor implored them to please step aside, folks. "Tickets, tickets. Kindly show your tickets." But he himself was pushed aside as the other passengers pressed forward, began to clamber aboard by twos and threes. And what with one thing and another, he not only was unable to check their tickets but he ceased to give a damn whether he did.
With a heavenward gesture, he stalked away to converse with a sympathetically grinning brakeman.
Meanwhile, Doc was on the train, trailing the thief by less than a car length.
The man had turned right, heading toward the front of the train. He moved with relatively little haste as long as he was within Doc's view. But losing him momentarily in passing from one car to another, he began to run. His intent or, rather, hope was to get off the train and leave Doc on it. But that would take time, as his hurried attempt to open a connecting door proved. He would need at least a couple of minutes to jump off and lose himself and so he ran.
The passengers became fewer and fewer as he neared the front of the train. He raced through one in which there were none at all; and then, coming to the door at its end, he stopped short. The car ahead was a dingy, straw-seated smoker. It was wholly empty, like the one he was in, and it adjoined the first of the express cars. In other words, he could go no farther. And he still lacked the time, or was afraid that he did, to make his escape.
His thief's mind weighed the situation, made an almost instantaneous decision. Darting through the drapes of the men's rest room, he yanked down the window shade, tossed the bag onto the leather couch and pressed the catches which held it shut. He was going to get
out of this frammis. Make sure, at least, that there was something to get. After all, the world was full of screwballs and it just might be that there was nothing in this keister but old matchbook covers or…
He gasped when he saw what was in it. Automatically, he grabbed a thick packet of bills and shoved them into his inside coat pocket. Then, hearing an approaching telltale sound, he slammed the bag shut, pushed it under the couch, and flattened himself against the wall by the doorway.
The train jerked and began to move. Doc's swift footsteps came closer. Then the drapes rustled, and in the mirror above the lavatory the thief saw his pursuer glance inside.
There was a muttered curse of disappointment. Then the drapes fell back into place, and the car door wheezed open and shut. The thief stayed where he was, motionless, hardly breathing. Some thirty seconds passed. The train slowly gathered speed. It still wasn't going too fast for a man to jump off, but…
There was a muted clang. The grating and scraping of metal against metal. Then silence save for the clicking of the wheels. Exultantly, the thief let out his breath.
He pulled the bag from beneath the couch and stepped out into the vestibule. The metal platform above the steps was swinging free, and the lower half of the exit door was partly open. The thief laughed out loud. What a break! Boy, what a break! Him speeding toward California with a satchelful of dough, and the guy back there at the station looking for him. And he couldn't raise a beef about his loss!
Grinning, he reclosed and locked the exit door. He entered the next car, the smoker, threw two seats together and tossed the bag onto the overhead rack. He sat down, placed his feet comfortably on the seat ahead of him.
And Doc moved away from the rear wall of the car, and sat down at his side. The thief gaped; his stiff lips framed a silent question. Doc jerked his head over his shoulder. "Back there," he said. "In the same place you were, approximately, when you hid in the rest room. I'll tell you something," he added. "Whenever you can see someone in a mirror, you can also be seen."
" the thief shook his head helplessly. "But…"
"I wanted to get you out of the rest room, and it wouldn't have looked well to carry you-just in case someone was looking. And of course you'd head this way instead of going back the way you came." He smiled unpleasantly, prodding the thief's ribs with his gun. "That's the mark of a punk, you know. He loves a cinch. I'd jumped the train, supposedly, and it was traveling fast. But you were still too gutless to go back into the cars. You were afraid I might spot you from the platform and hop back on."
He was very annoyed with the thief. The man had given him an extremely bad time, and he was apt to receive an even worse one from Carol as an aftermath. He had seen her just before he sat down, motioned to her as she hesitantly entered the car behind. And while he couldn't tell much about her expression at that distance, he could see that she was angry. He had known that she must be before she showed up; as soon as, having cornered the thief, he had had time to think of anything else.
"Put the rod away, mister." The thief was smiling, getting back his nerve. "You aren't going to use it."
"That's another mark of a punk," Doc told him. "He doesn't know when to be frightened."
"You can't use it. You can't make any kind of rumble. If you could, you'd've already done it." He winked at Doc companionably. "We're two of a kind, mister. You…"
"Now that, "Doc said, "is carrying things too far." And he whipped the gun barrel upward.
It smashed against the point of the thief's chin. His eyes glazed, and his body went into a sacklike sag. Methodically, Doc locked an arm around his head, braced the other across his back and jerked.
It was over in a split second. If a man can die instantly, the thief did.
Doc tilted the seat back a little, adjusted the man's body to a slightly reclining position. He placed his feet on the seat ahead, and pulled his hat over his eyes.
Doc studied the corpse critically. He gave it a few minor touches-closing the staring eyes, putting one of the limp hands into a coat pocket-and was satisfied. To all appearances the man was asleep. Even Carol thought he was-or would have, if she had not known otherwise.
She sat down facing Doc, her anger somewhat weakened by the relief of being reunited with him. He hadn't had it very easy either, she guessed. And the terrifying mix-up at the station was probably more her own fault than his. Still…
She couldn't quite locate the cause of her anger; explain, in absolute terms, why she had viewed him and almost everything he had done with distrust and distaste practically from the moment of their post-robbery meeting. It wasn't so much what he'd done, she supposed, as what he had not. Not so much what he was, as what he was not. And in her mind she wailed bride-like for what she had lost-or thought she had; for something that had never existed outside of her mind.
He doesn't treat me like he used to, she thought. He's not the same man any more.
"Carol-" Doc spoke to her a second time. "I said I was sorry, dear."
She looked at him coldly, shrugged. "All right. What's the pitch now?"
"That depends. Has the conductor collected your ticket-no? Well, that's good. But he did see you when you got on?"
Carol shook her head. "The train was already moving. If the porter hadn't hopped off and helped me-well, never mind. The less said about that the better."
"Perhaps. For the moment at least." Doc looked back through the door, saw the conductor trudging up the aisle of the next car. "Now give me one of the tickets-for my friend here-and just follow my lead."
The conductor was grumbling, complaining, almost before he reached them. What was the sense of their coming way up here? It was uncomfortable for them, and it made things hard on him. Doc murmured apologies. Their friend had wanted to visit the diner; having come this far in the wrong direction, he had decided to remain.
"My wife and I are getting off at the first stop," he added, proffering a bill along with the ticket. "We hadn't planned to…"
"You're getting off?" the conductor exploded. "This isn't some commuter's local, mister. You shouldn't have got on without a ticket; shouldn't've stayed on anyway."
"And we hadn't planned to. But this gentleman wasn't feeling well and…"
"Then he shouldn't have got on either! Or he ought to've bought himself some Pullman space." He jabbed a train check into the window clip, yanked a coupon from the ticket book and tossed it down onto the seat. "You don't have enough money there, mister," he snapped at Doc. "The first scheduled stop for this train is ten o'clock tonight."
Carol's mouth tightened nervously. Ten o'clock- more than nine hours from now! They could never maintain the masquerade of the "sleeping" man that long. The conductor was already studying him narrow-eyed, turning a suspicious gaze toward Doc.
"What's the matter with him anyway?" he said. "He acts like he was drunk or doped or something. Here, you," he started to grab the corpse by the shoulder. "What…"
Doc caught his hand, grimly rose up from the seat. "I'll tell you what's the matter with him," he said. "He got a bad jostling when he boarded the train. Started up an old neck injury. You didn't notice because you were off chatting with a friend instead of minding your job. But I've got several witnesses to the fact that it happened, and if you're looking for trouble, I'll be glad to supply it."
The conductor's mouth opened and reopened. He swallowed heavily. Doc softened his tone, warmed him with a look of man-to-man sympathy.
"Now, I know a man can't be every place at once," he said. "I don't always follow rules right to the letter, and I don't expect anyone else to. And as long as my friend isn't seriously injured, we're both inclined to forget the matter. On the other hand. –
He let the words hang in the air. The conductor glanced at his watch, took out a receipt book. "Suppose we pull a stop for you in about an hour? I could do it sooner, I guess, but we might get a flag there anyway, and…"
"An hour? That will be fine," Doc said.
"And, uh, everything'll be okay with your friend? I mean you don't think he'll, uh…"
"File a complaint? Don't give it a thought," Doc said heartily. "I'll guarantee that he won't."
He sat down again as the conductor left, and tucked the railroad ticket into the breast pocket of the dead man's coat. Carol watched him, a little misty-eyed, feeling a sudden resurgence of the slavish devotion and adoration which had been about to be lost to the past.
Everything had been such a mess. Everything had seemed so different-she, Doc-everything. But now the mess was gone, the mistakes and misunderstandings brushed away-or aside. And Doc was exactly the same Doc she had dreamed of and longed for these last four years.
Relief engulfed her. Relief and gratitude at being snatched back from a last-straw, not-to-be-borne peril. She had been sinking, coming apart inside, and Doc had saved her and made her whole again. Impulsively she reached out and squeezed his hand.
"Doc," she said. "Do me a favor?"