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Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye

Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye

by Horace McCoy

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McCoy’s hardboiled noir classic, about an Ivy League graduate’s criminal rampage through the seedy underground and glitzy high society of an unnamed American city To escape prison, Ralph Cotter uses the same genius for planning and penchant for cold-hearted violence that helped earn him a spot in the slammer in the first place. On the lam in a


McCoy’s hardboiled noir classic, about an Ivy League graduate’s criminal rampage through the seedy underground and glitzy high society of an unnamed American city To escape prison, Ralph Cotter uses the same genius for planning and penchant for cold-hearted violence that helped earn him a spot in the slammer in the first place. On the lam in a city where he knows nobody, Cotter has nothing to lose, no conscience to hold him back, and no limit to his twisted ambition. But in the midst of a criminal spree, a grift leads him to the boudoir of wealthy heiress Margaret Dobson, a woman with the power to peel back the rotten layers of his psyche and reveal the damaged soul beneath. Vicious and thrilling, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye is a look at one man’s relentless attack on American society, conjuring one of the most memorable antiheros of twentieth-century noir fiction. This ebook features an extended biography of Horace McCoy.

Editorial Reviews

Gale Research
In Tough Guy Writers of the Thirties, Sturak deemed Kiss Tomorrow Good-bye "McCoy's most intriguing and ambitious novel. In its thematic preoccupations with states of awareness, failure and success, death and rebirth, and the quest for self-identity, it reflected a period of crisis in his own life which was dominated by a mood of disintegration and complicated by a promising turn of fortune," as his earlier novels suddenly enjoyed success overseas. Kiss Tomorrow Good-bye, remarked Sturak, "stands as both the climax of his career and a paradigm of his creative imagination."
Library Journal
McCoy's hard-boiled thriller was published by Random in 1948. The plot follows its thoroughly ruthless criminal protagonist from a chain gang escape through his rejoining a band of crooks and reentering a life of crime. The book was filmed in 1950, with veteran tough guy Jimmy Cagney in the lead. A gritty, gutsy thriller.
Kirkus Reviews
This once-famous noir novel (by the author of They Shoot Horses, Don't They?) was originally published in 1948 and inspired an excellent (and long neglected) James Cagney film. In a grating and deliberately stiff style that reflects his arrogant egotism, college-educated "Ralph Cotter" (his alias) relates the story of his escape from a prison farm, involvement with willing and dangerous women, and complicity with a corrupt establishment dominated by crooked cops and lawyers that he thinks he can bend to his own invincible will. Cotter is a pugnacious, violently sensual Middle American Raskolnikov, and his remorseless amorality resonates as chillingly today as it must have 50 years ago. Aficionados of hard-boiled fiction who think that Hammett, Cain, and Jim Thompson set the standard ought to take a look at Horace McCoy.

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Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye

By Horace McCoy


Copyright © 1948 Horace McCoy
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4532-4673-3


This is how it is when you wake up in the morning of the morning you have waited a lifetime for: there is no waking state. You are all at once wide awake, so wide awake that it seems you have slipped all the opiatic degrees of waking, that you have had none of the sense-impressions as your soul again returns to your body from wherever it has been; you open your eyes and you are completely awake, as if you had not been asleep at all. That is how it was with me. This was the morning it was going to happen, and I lay there trembling with accumulated excitement and wishing it would happen now and be done with, this instant, consuming nervous energy that I should have been saving for the climax, knowing full well that it could not possibly happen for another hour, maybe another hour and a half, till around five-thirty. It was now only a little after four. It was still so dark I could not see anything distinctly, but I could tell by the little of the morning that I could smell that it was only a little after four. Not much of the morning could get into the place where I was, and the portions that did were always pretty well mauled and no wonder: they had to fight their way in through a single window at the same time a solid shaft of stink was going out. This was a prison barracks where seventy-two unwashed men slept chained to their bunks, and when the individual odors of seventy-two unwashed men finally gather into one pillar of stink you have got a pillar of stink the like of which you cannot conceive; majestic, nonpareil, transcendental, K.

But it never intimidated that early morning. Ever indomitable, it always came back, and always a little of it got through to me. I was always awake to greet these fragments, hungrily smelling what little freshness they had left by the time they got back to me, smelling them frugally, in careful precious sniffs, letting them dig in the vaults of my memory, letting them uncover early morning sounds of a lifetime ago: bluejays and woodpeckers and countless other birds met like medieval knights and thrusting at each other with long sharp lances of song, the crowings of roosters, the brassy bleats of hungry sheep and the mooing of cows, saying, 'No-o-o hay, No-o-o milk', that is what my grandfather said they were saying and my grandfather knew. He knew everything there was to know about everything that was completely unimportant. He knew the names of all Hadrian's mistresses and the real reason, hushed-up by the historians, why Richard took the Third Crusade off to the Holy Land and the week the Alaskan reindeers would mate and the hours of the high tides of Nova Scotia; my grandfather knew everything except how to run the farm, lying there deep in the feather-bed in the side room where Longstreet once spent the night, buried under the quilts that hid me from old John Brown of Osawatomie, dead and gone these many years, but who, they said, still clumped the foothills of the Gap gathering up disobedient little boys; smelling the morning and hearing the sounds, smelling and hearing, hiding from old John Brown (but hiding from something else too, although I did not then know what it was), frightened with little-boy fright (which, I also was to find out, was not so annihilative as grown-man fright), waiting for the daylight ...

The darkness began to fade slowly at the window, and a few men turned over, rattling their chains, waking up; but you did not need these noises to tell you that there was movement any more than any other wild animal needs noises to tell him there is movement; the pillar of stink which had been lying in laminae like the coats of an onion was now being peeled and a little of everybody was everywhere. There was coughing and grunting and hawking and much spitting, and then the man in the next bunk, Budlong, a skinny sickly sodomist, turned on his side facing me and said in a ruttish voice: 'I had another dream about you last night, sugar.'

It will be your last, you Caresser of Calves, I thought 'Was it as nice as the others?' I asked.

'Nicer ...' he said.

'You're sweet. I adore you,' I said, feeling a fine fast exhilaration that today was the day that I was going to kill him, that I was finally going to kill him as soon as I got my hands on those pistols I was going to kill him. I hope Holiday knows what the hell about those pistols, I thought; I hope they're where they're supposed to be, I hope Cobbett doesn't let us down. Cobbett was the clerk of the farm who doubled on Sundays as the guard in the visitors' cage, an old man who had spent his life as a chain-gang and prison-farm guard, now too feeble to have a squad of his own, and pensioned off to sinecures. He had taken a shine to Holiday the first time she had come to visit us, and from then on he had been less and less strict in the matter of her visiting hours, and now she had gotten him to help us make the break. He was to have met her last night and got the pistols and stashed them for us. They were to be sealed in an inner tube and hidden in the irrigation ditch that ran along the upper end of the cantaloupe patch where we were working. The exact spot of their submergence was to be marked with a rock the size of a human head, on which there would be a dab of white paint, placed in line with the pistols but on the other side of the ditch where it would be less likely to attract attention. This was all that Cobbett had to do. I hoped he had done it. If he had, if the pistols were there I was going to kill this swine Budlong, as sure as God made little apples I was going to kill him ...

All of a sudden the door banged open and there was Harris, the sergeant, standing in the gloom no eyes, no nose, no mouth, just a great big hunk of obscene flesh standing there in the doorway with his arm hooked under a Winchester, yelling for us to hit the deck. Always he stood there in the same way and always he yelled the same thing and always the prisoners in the rear of the barracks called him the same names. But I never called him names. I was too busy being glad that the door was finally open. I lay there waiting for him to come and take the manacles off my ankles, and the fresh morning rushed through the door like children coming into the living-room on Christmas morning....

On the way to the mess-shack I lagged behind, trying to let Toko catch up with me. He was going out with me and I wanted to see what kind of a night he had had, whether he had gotten any sleep. Probably not. He was just far enough removed from imbecility to have lain awake all night worrying, he had just enough imagination to worry. He was the last guy I would have picked as a partner in a crash-out; he was very young, this would be his first break, and Christ alone knew how his reflexes would work if something went wrong. But I had had nothing to do with picking him. Holiday had wanted him out and she had included me for the sake of whatever insurance my experience could promise; and that was fine because I did not know this country and had no friends around, and no money with which to buy friends, the only kind of friends I needed. Breaking out with Toko was risky business, but that was the way it had to be, I had no choice and that was fine. A hell of a lot of good my intellect was doing me locked up in this nidus of stink with offal like these, a hell of a lot of good, and hearing for month after month after month of the achievements of bums like Floyd and Karpis and Nelson and Dillinger, who were getting rich off cracker-box banks, bums who had no talent at all, bums who could hardly get in out of the rain. It was fine that I had this chance, however risky. Jesus, just wait till I got outside again.... Toko was so far back that I couldn't get to him without obviously trying to get to him, and this was no time for that. Once or twice during breakfast I caught his eye and smiled a little and winked very carefully, telling him not to worry, that this was going to be a breeze. He winked back and I hoped he knew what I was talking about....

When we came out of the mess-shack it was almost full-up daylight. The sun had not risen yet from behind the mountains, but it had poked up a couple of playful fingers, goosing the last thin remnant of night, and the grey was scattering fast. Harris blew a short sharp blast on his tarnished silver whistle and the prisoners started racing for the water-closet. Thirteen stools, first come, first served and happy evacuations to the fleet of foot. If it was Number Two you had to do you had to rush because come hell or high water, you had only five minutes. Looking at the lump of men wriggling to get through the small door I could believe the stories some of the old-timers handed down about the bitter bloody feuds this had started; and I could believe some of the funny stories they told too, for, after all, five minutes are not very many for an operation like this unless you have your bowels under impeccable control.

I lighted a cigarette and looked around for Toko and in a moment I saw him coming towards me in what he patently thought was a casual saunter, but which was much more of an excited waddle. There was furtiveness in his face and furtiveness in his manner. The one morning of all the mornings that had for our purpose to look like just another day of ceaseless drudgery and here he was, advertising that something was up. It was risky enough without this.

'Please, please, relax,' I said quietly. 'Take it easy. Stop acting like everybody was in on this. Nobody knows about this but you and I and Cobbett. You got to remember that.'

'What about Cobbett?' he asked. 'Can we count on him?'

'This is a fine time to worry about that,' I said.

'I got to get out of here. I got to,' he said desperately.

'Relax,' I said. 'You'll get out. Relax.'

'You think there'll be a slip-up?'

'Not if the guns are where they're supposed to be.'

'After we get the guns. You think it'll go the way we figured?'

'It's up to us to make it go that way.'

'You think there'll be any shooting?'

How am I going to kill Budlong without some shooting? I wanted to ask. 'Take it easy,' I said. 'Relax. Please. This is just another day. Stop advertising.'

He licked his lips and looked around and sucked in the air through his nostrils.

'Goddamn it,' I said, 'I'm in on this to see that it goes all right. That's why Holiday took me in, isn't it? Isn't it?'

'Yeah ...'

'Well, then, relax.'

This seemed to unloosen him a little. 'Ain't you supposed to be in the crapper?' he asked.

'I know what I'm doing,' I said. 'Relax. I'm going now....'

He held out his hand for the cigarette I was smoking and I gave it to him and walked off towards the water-closet. One of the guards, Byers, was standing just outside the door. He had a heft of gut hanging from under his vest and the front of his cheap coat was shiny from the rubbing of the Winchester he always had cradled in his arms. He looked at me derisively as I approached. 'You're that dainty son-of-a-bitch, ain't you?' he said. 'You got to wait until you got the whole place all to yourself, ain't you?'

'I don't feel so good,' I said. 'I got the runners. They came on all of a sudden,' I said, going inside, pushing past the men who were coming out. Seven or eight were still in there, grimacing and grunting, straining against time, racing the whistle that soon would blow. I walked down to the end of the row, to the last open, unpartitioned stool and eased myself over it and put on my face what I hoped was the proper expression of distress. One by one the others finished and went out and I was left all alone. Hardly had the last man gone through the door before I heard the two short blasts from Harris's whistle.

Byers poked his head inside. 'Come on!' he shouted at me.

I spread my hands helplessly. He hauled himself through the door and stomped to me. This was his favorite part of the job as a guard. I knew what was coming, but I had to take it in order to set up the escape.

'You heard me!' he bellowed. 'Get off there!'

'I'm sick,' I said, putting agony into my face. 'I'm sick as hell, Mister Byers. I got the runners....'

He slapped me hard across the face with the palm of his horny hand.

'Please, Mister Byers. I'm sick....'

He hit me with the back of his hand, knocking-sweeping me off the stool.

'Fall in!' he roared.

'Yes sir, my liege, my master,' I said.

I picked myself up off the floor and started out, pulling up my pants as I went, with him stomping along behind, banging me in the rump with his Winchester at every step.

Oh, yes, indeed, there'll be a bit of shooting, I was thinking ...

I fell in line directly behind Toko and when Harris right-faced us and started us for the cantaloupe patch we were then side by side. There were six guards on horseback, and fifty prisoners in this detail. The path we took was through a dry-wash to the irrigation ditch, across the bridge of the irrigation ditch, and then northward towards the mountains to the patch. The patch was only half a mile from the barracks, a short half mile in the morning, but a very long half mile in the late afternoon. That I didn't have to worry about any more – I hoped. I had dragged my butt down this long endless half mile for the very last time – I hoped.

The short limbs of my favorite eucalyptus tree bowed goodbye to me as I marched by. It's been nice knowing you too, I thought. Well, good-bye and good luck. I won't be coming this way again I hope. And wait a little while before you let your children out to play. I wouldn't want any of them getting hurt. It's just possible, just barely possible that there might be a bit of shooting....

We swung out of the wash, up the back into the open, into the old alfalfa field we worked in season. The sun was coming up now, bright and brassy, an honest sun, not throwing out a lot of beautiful colors to fool you into thinking the day would be beautiful too, but hanging there, with no color at all, for everybody to look upon and realize that its only mission was to burn and scorch. It was not quite five-thirty, but already a lot of automobiles were rolling along Highway 67. You could see a few and hear more, so stethosopic was the quality of that fragile morning air that you could hear every beat of the motors. Those people were in a hurry, trying to get where they were going before the sun really levelled off; by ten-thirty or eleven the valley would be a furnace.

Harris started dropping back, and I knew we were coming to the bridge across the irrigation ditch. He was always the last one over because he was in charge of this detail.

I rubbed elbows with Toko on the bridge.

'Keep an eye open for that rock,' I whispered.

He did not say anything. I looked at him out of the corner of my eye. His upper lip was twitching.

Oh, God, I thought, he's going to screw this up for sure. 'Take it easy,' I whispered. 'The bus will be along pretty soon....'

That part of the plan also was my idea. Since we did not have watches, and since perfect timing was absolutely necessary, I had suggested to Holiday that we use the air horn of the Greyhound bus as the signal for the break. The mountain highway was full of dangerous curves, and the driver of the northbound bus always sounded the horn at these spots. The bus came along the highway early every morning around seven-fifteen; it hit the grades, its diesel purring the way Satchmo blows his trumpet, until the first close turn, the bottom of a tight S, when it cut loose its horn in two blasts that rocked every living thing in the valley. In a few more minutes it made the turn at the top of the S, cutting loose with that horn again. This blast, the third one, was the signal for the kick-off. It would mean that Holiday and Jinx would be waiting on the dirt road, half a mile from the highway, beside a thicket of eucalypti. It was up to Toko and me to have the guns by then and when the third blast was heard we were to make a run for the thicket, a hundred yards from the cantaloupe patch. Once in there we would be safe, for the trees were so close together the guards couldn't get through on horseback. These were not the eucalypti with the thick trunks, these were the small ones, with trunks no bigger than your leg, and so numerous that you had to walk through them sidewise.

After we had finally crossed the bridge and were strung out northward again I kept my eyes on the irrigation ditch, looking for the rock Holiday had said would be daubed with white paint. Toko was on my left, between me and the ditch, but he was no help at all.


Excerpted from Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye by Horace McCoy. Copyright © 1948 Horace McCoy. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Horace Stanley McCoy (1897–1955) was an American novelist whose gritty, hardboiled novels documented the hardships Americans faced during the Depression and post-war periods. McCoy grew up in Tennessee and Texas; after serving in the air force during World War I, he worked as a journalist, film actor, and screenplay writer, and is author of five novels including They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1935) and the noir classic Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1948). Though underappreciated in his own time, McCoy is now recognized as a peer of Dashiell Hammett and James Cain. He died in Beverly Hills, California, in 1955.

Horace Stanley McCoy (1897–1955) was an American novelist whose gritty, hardboiled novels documented the hardships Americans faced during the Depression and post-war periods. McCoy grew up in Tennessee and Texas; after serving in the air force during World War I, he worked as a journalist, film actor, and screenplay writer, and is author of five novels including They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1935) and the noir classic Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1948). Though underappreciated in his own time, McCoy is now recognized as a peer of Dashiell Hammett and James Cain. He died in Beverly Hills, California, in 1955.  

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