Read an Excerpt
The train had barely come to a stop at the Union Station in Louisville, when the tall man with the flimsy black suitcase shouldered the conductor out of the way and jumped to the platform.
"...hell's the matter with you!" the conductor called after him. But, though he heard clearly, the tall man didn't look back. The anger in him was too large a thing, too deeply banked to permit of small irritations. The thing inside him was quiet and intent, having the power of long development, like a storm that gathers force in the secret wastes of the ocean and moves stealthily inland for destruction.
The tall man had a loose-jointed and awkward physical power about him as he moved with long strides through the waiting room of the depot. His long, high-cheekboned face ended in a narrow jut of jaw. He had a thin straight nose, a wide mouth, and sullen brown eyes. It was a face that at twenty-six had been facile with teasing humor and boyish pleasantness. Now, at thirty-eight, it was a face drawn together with shrewd watchfulness and contempt.
The tall man was not aware that the frayed, black suitcase was heavy. He swung it along with him like a child's toy, the bony knuckles of one great hand jutting from the handle like the knobs of railroad spikes.
He set the case down by a cab outside the station. When the driver had placed it in the trunk, he ducked his angular body inside the cab and sank onto a corner of the seat, smoothing the trousers of his rumpled chocolate gabardine. He gave an address off South Third and the hack pulled away sharply.
"You picked a hot one," said the driver over his shoulder.
"Hot day toland here," the driver said.
"Oh," said the tall man. "Yeah. Plenty hot." His voice was flat and remote as though his thoughts were pulled from a difficult problem. He had not noticed that it was hot; was hardly conscious of the drab buildings of the city he had never before seen.
"Bad summer," the driver said. "Worse that fifty-four. Me, I'll take San Fran anytime. Gonna take the missus and head out there soon as we save a few bucks. Never did like this town. Dull as it's hot. Excuse me, mister. You come from around here?"
"This your home? I mean, no offense--"
"Listen, bud," the tall man said. "Why don't you wheel this wreck and just shut up. You got troubles? I'll punch your card for you."
"Sorry, George," the driver said. "Didn't know you was touchy about the home town."
"Just shut up," the tall man said again without anger. The driver mumbled something but the tall man wasn't listening. He was wondering now if he should have called from the station; if Barney had arrived from Los Angeles the night before with the cunning, evil box; if Cal, who had taken the apartment a week ago, was waiting there for him as planned. Or was he in the booth of some dark bar, squeezed against a tight curve of some sweatered yokel he had picked up the first night in from Denver. Cal was always the operator.
Well, that kind of stuff would have to wait till later. For a thing like this, you needed a certain discipline or it would fall apart. Well, they were all acquainted with discipline. And he was going to enforce it. He was going to hold the purpose together. He was going to keep reminding, keep lighting the fire. God! It shouldn't be necessary. Who could forget! Not Barney. Never. And not Cal, really. You just had to keep him in line. And he would have certain special uses. They would be able to use that handsome pan of his. And all of his operating tricks would help twist the knife.
The cab ground tires against the curb and came to a halt. "This is it," the driver said. "Twenty-three seventy you said?"
"Yeah. Right." The tall man leaned out the window, studying a tree-storied apartment building that joined other buildings like it and seemed to stretch endlessly away in monotonous repetition.
The tall man paid the driver the exact amount of the fare, lifted the suitcase from the sidewalk, and moved briskly toward the entrance of twenty-three seventy as the cab departed with an angry grinding of gears.
In the vestibule, he paused long enough to study the mail boxes. Then with a grunt he hoisted himself and the case up three flights to apartment 3C, rang the bell.
The door was opened by a deep-chested, heavy-shouldered man with straight black hair. He had small but strongly handsome features, bright, clever eyes, coolly green, full of amusement. He was a head shorter than the tall man.
"Cal," the tall man said. "Thought you'd be out boozing with some doll."
"In the afternoon, Brick?" said the one called Cal. "Too hot and too early."
Brick, the tall one, gave him a look and pushed past into the living room, glancing disinterestedly at the twenty-by-fifteen space with its anonymous clutter of maple pieces, setting the suitcase on the oval throw rug. "Where's Barney?" he said.
"Kitchen," said Cal. "Saw you coming. He's building a cool one."
Brick bent himself onto the sofa. "Lousy trip," he said. "Hate trains. Had to sit up all night. Everything set?"
"What's to set?" Cal said. "Waiting for you. My God, but you still look pale."
"After twelve years, you don't get colored up in a couple of weeks," said Brick disgustedly. "Plenty of time for that."
"Yeah. We'll really live!" Cal said, dropping into a chair.
Brick gave him a sharp glance. "Don't be in any hurry, hear? Don't screw this up now. Do I have to keep reminding..."
"Hey! Brick! Welcome home. Brought you one for a dusty throat."
The man who stood in the doorway of the kitchen was medium-sized and stocky. His hair was the color of new rope and began far back from his forehead. He had bearlike shoulders. A thick neck and powerful biceps. His features were blunt, his eyes flat blue. He carried a trio of drinks in the palm of one hand. He set the drinks on the coffee table in front of the tall man and extended his hand.
"How was New York?" he said. "You tie on a big one, Brick?"
Brick smiled, took the extended hand without rising. "Same old rabbit hutch," he said. "Everyone on the jump for lettuce. Nah, I took it easy. Nothin' there for me anymore."
"Thought you would've found a live one," said Cal, picking up one of the drinks.
"That's your department," said Brick, lighting a cigarette and squinting over the flame of his lighter. "I had other things on my mind. How about you? You been here a week. You check the setup?"
"Sure," said Cal. "I've got a whole notebook full of items. I could tell you what time he goes to bed and what kind of tooth paste he uses."
"Good! Don't suppose you checked his wife?" Brick said wryly.
"You kidding? I could tell you what size--"
"Forget it. I was sure you didn't miss anything there."
"She hasn't changed," said Cal. "Just filled out a bit -- in all the right places. That's one part of the deal I like."
"You better like all of it," said Brick. He picked up his highball and twisted it in his hand.
"I like all of it," said Cal. "All but the way it ends. I don't know about that."
The tall man was very still for a moment. "You better get to like that, too," he said quietly. "You better live with it, get the feel of it. You got a short memory."
Cal was silent.
"What about you, Barney?" said Brick. "You like the end?"
"I can almost taste it," said Barney. "The end should come first."
"Oh, no," said Brick. "That's where you're wrong. A thing like this should build. It should begin slowly, in a very small way. First it heckles, you see. Irritates like a boil. Then it tightens." The tall man slowly brought his fingers together until they clenched into a knotty fist. "And when it tightens, it frightens. You see? You got to have the fear first. That's really the best part. That's the part you drag out, like you were sipping a good wine. Then you back up the fear and it gets serious. It begins to crush and crush until it splinters like match wood and breaks apart. You see? Then! That's the time ... The end is almost an anti-climax. Because twelve years is a long time. A very long time. Right, Cal?"
"That's right," said Cal.
"A hell of a long time."
Brick washed his mouth with the last gulp and swallowed. He looked around the room. "What's the deal on the apartment, Cal?"
"I took it for a month. But we can have it as long as we need. Two bedrooms," he jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "At ninety-five per."
"What's in the suitcase?" asked Barney, leaning forward. He winked. "Besides the laundry, I mean."
Brick set his glass on the table, unfolded himself from the couch, crossed to the center of the room, and laid the suitcase on its side. Squatting, he opened it, shoving aside clothing, digging to the bottom, coming up with three stubby .38 revolvers. "All new," he said. "All alike." He passed out two and dropped the other back into the case.
"Nice," said Cal. "Very nice." He broke the gun and twirled the cylinder.
"Pretty toy," said Barney, weighing his in his hand. "Real belly-jammer. But give me the old forty-five for serious trouble."
"For a real friend, I'll take this one," said Brick. From the bottom of the case he produced a shiny rifle in two sections, fitting it together, then squinting across the room through the telescopic sight. "Thirty-o-six," he said. "Neat as a razor. No guesswork." He cocked the rifle and squeezed the trigger. There was the thin snap of the hammer falling.
"What's that one for?" said Cal.
"You'll see," said Brick. "You'll see." He dismantled the rifle and put it away in the bottom of the suitcase. He held out his hand. "I'll take the rest of the iron, too," he said. "This part comes later. Until then, we go out clean." He took the revolvers and tucked them away.
"When do we start?" said Barney with a note of excitement.
Brick looked at his watch. "Two-thirty now," he said. "What time does he fold, Cal?"
"Somewhere between five and five-fifteen. Usually right around five sharp."
The tall man stood up and looked down at the other two. A muscle worked in his jaw. "Then that's when it starts," he said. "At five o'clock sharp."
Copyright © 1959 by Robert Colby