Johnny Lane is outside the Apollo when he sees Luis, and rage floods his veins. Every tough in Harlem knows that Luis tried to rape Johnny’s girl, and that means he has to die. Johnny comes out swinging, but Luis is wearing brass knuckles, and he almost kills Johnny before the fight gets broken up. A few weeks later, as a brutal winter settles over New York, Johnny is walking down the street when he hears the gunfire. Luis has been shot dead.
Johnny runs without thinking, because it’s bad news for a black man to get caught near a corpse, but the cops catch up with him anyway. He didn’t shoot Luis, but he had a motive, and that’s good enough for the New York Police Department. Cornered, alone, and helpless, Johnny has no choice but to find the real killer—or spend the rest of his life on the run from the cops, his friends, and his girl.
A hardboiled story of a friendless man hunted by the police, Runaway is vintage Ed McBain. It’s a story of life on the margins of a merciless city, from an author who knew the dark side of New York better than anyone.
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By Ed McBain
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1954 Ed McBain
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Because the neighborhood had planted fear so deeply inside him, he ran the instant he heard the shot.
He did not stop to wonder where the shot had come from. A shot meant trouble, and trouble meant cops, and in the neighborhood you ran when the cops came.
He came up out of The Valley, away from the slab-gray fronts of the tenements, away from the back yards and the clothes stiff with the first rush of winter, grotesquely clutching the cold air. His feet clattered on the pavement, and a hundred hollow echoes reverberated from the cast-iron sky, fled into dim hallways, reached out again to smother the asphalt with sound. He went past the candy store on the corner where Freddie ran a drop, and then he hit Seventh Avenue and turned downtown, slowing his pace a little now because the shot was behind him. He mingled with the crowd, and there was warmth in the crowd, and he heard the click of high heels on pavement, smelled the perfume of the women, listened to the voices disjointed and distorted, a part of his people now, a part of the warm cocoon bundled around him, bundled against the winter and the cops and the shot he had heard.
The Market Place was ahead of him, stretching down to the park from 115th Street. He had been to the Market only once, when he was sixteen, and he could still remember the dim hallway and the lightly perfumed body, the shadows on the ceiling, the heavily murmured incantation of commercial love. He had enjoyed the experience, but there was plenty around you didn't have to pay for, and he knew plenty of guys who'd been lured into a hallway by a pair of loose hips on the Market, only to be slashed and mugged by accomplices. And though he knew all this, the Market still held a peculiar fascination for him, and he almost forgot the shot as he walked through it.
The girl lounging in one of the doorways, lighting a cigarette, showing colossal disinterest for everything around her, shoved herself off the doorjamb with an insinuating push of her hip. She started down the steps in front of the building, swinging her body exaggeratedly, and he watched the smooth flow of silk over her flat stomach where the monkey-fur jacket ended. He quickened his pace, and she touched his arm lightly as he passed her. She didn't say anything. She tilted her face and smiled an age-old smile, and he simply shook his head and kept walking, and then she cursed after him.
He walked through the Market, wondering what was going on in each of the rooms behind the drawn window shades, knowing very well what was going on, but wondering about it anyway, and deriving a strange peculiar satisfaction from wondering.
The Golden Edge faced Central Park, and he thought, Next to Sugar Hill, I'll take the Golden Edge. The thought was not a new one to him, and he shrugged the way he always did whenever it crossed his mind. He knew he lived in The Valley, and he knew that he'd probably die in The Valley, unless he made a big killing on the numbers, and then, man, watch that Caddy. A big yellow job, with whitewall tires, and maybe zebra upholstery. No, maybe that would be putting it on too much. But yellow, anyway, and whitewalls for sure. And then watch all the pussies wail when Johnny Lane came down the street. A convertible with the top down, and he'd smile at them and just wave, sort of, not a real wave, just a kind of raising of his hand a little to let them know he was born and raised here and he bled for them all, but he was glad he was out of it. And then he'd cut out for his pad on Sugar Hill, none of this Golden Edge stuff, not if he made a real killing, and he'd have a Scandinavian maid, or maybe a German Frau who just came to this country and couldn't speak English so good, one of those real blonde women, sort of big all over, with one of those can't-speak-English smiles on her face, willing to please, happy to please, she damn well better please or he'd get him another one. And Cindy — well, Cindy'd live there with him, of course, but she wouldn't mind the Frau because she'd understand, Cindy would. That's if he made a killing, or if he could latch onto something the way Barney did, but he always had a horseshoe up his behind, that guy.
He crossed 110th Street and walked into the park, not looking behind him because looking behind was the worst thing you could do. He found an empty bench, and he sat down and pulled his coat collar up against the cold, and only then did he wonder who got shot. Maybe nobody at all, and maybe there was no reason to run, but when cops are involved, it's better to run first and think about it afterward, or just run and not think about it at all. He wondered if the cops ever worked you over for just thinking about something, and he smiled at his own absurd imagination and tried to make himself comfortable on the bench.
He had never liked the winter, and he sure as hell wasn't looking forward to this one. Last winter they hadn't had enough heat to keep a cockroach alive, though the cockroaches didn't seem to care about the heat. Molly kept the oven lit all the time last winter, and you could suffocate from that kind of dry, catch-in-the-throat gas heat. You'd think that sonovabitch would at least give you heat, especially in the winter, instead of making your muscles sore from pounding on the goddamned radiator all the time. He was almost ashamed to bring Cindy up there, and he remembered the time she didn't want to take off her clothes, and he thought it was because Molly would be home soon, but it was really because the flat was so cold.
He pulled his collar higher. If anything, this was going to be a colder winter. He could feel that bite in the air, like stepping on the bathroom floor at four in the morning. It ate at a man's bones, the cold, and damnit, he didn't like the cold, and that was that. No more winter, Johnny Lane has decreed, so winter is hereby abolished. That means no more mink coats, either. Wonder what all those high-stepping broads are gonna do without their mink coats. Probably freeze to death, even if it's summer all the time.
He looked up to the big apartment buildings on the other side of the park, and he wondered how it felt to live in one of those jobs, and wake up every morning and open the window and look out over the park instead of looking at some other guy in his undershirt opening the window and looking at you across the alleyway. The people from the apartment houses sometimes hit the spots, ooohing and ahhing, my, how quaint all this is. He'd seen them in their evening clothes, all dolled up, the women with dresses slashed to their navels, the men smoking pipes, like invaders from another world. They didn't belong in the neighborhood, and he resented them, but at the same time he envied the holiday spirit that was always with them.
And they call us the happy people, he thought bitterly.
He had been sitting on the bench for ten minutes when Snow White and the two cops pulled up. The white top of the squad car reflected the pale November sun, and it struck the old panic within him, but there was no place to go except deeper into the park, and that would be senseless. He sat still and wondered if he were carrying any mootah, but he remembered that he'd smoked his last joint down to a roach last night, and he was glad he wasn't hooked like some of the other cats, because these bastards would just be itching for a possessions rap. He kept looking up at the apartment houses out there, far away on the other side of the park, pretending the cops weren't sitting in the car there at the curb, giving him the once-over. He heard the car door slam shut with the solid sound of bank-vault doors, heard the empty clatter of the cops' shoes on the pavement, and then saw their shadows, long and thin in the afternoon sun, fall across the bench.
"Getting some air?" one cop asked.
He looked up, trying to feign surprise, knowing the fear was all over his face, and knowing cops could smell fear the way a hound could smell a bitch in heat. For an instant he panicked, thinking he did have a stick of marijuana on him after all. But he remembered that he had smoked it down, and the panic vanished.
"Yeah," he said, his voice trembling just a little. "I've been getting some air."
"We got a dead man," the second cop said dryly.
He blinked up at the cop, condemning himself for feeling guilty when he was completely innocent. But the neighborhood was one big festering guilt complex, and he was one ulcer in that sick system. He could not have felt innocent even if he'd wanted to.
"A dead man?" he said. "Yeah?"
"This is all news to you, huh?" the first cop said.
"Yeah. Yeah, it is."
"He got it with a zip gun, this guy," the cop went on. "You own a zip gun?"
"No," he said. He had owned a zip gun once, before the cops had begun giving the gangs a lot of trouble. He had ditched the gun together with a knife that was over the legal limit in blade length. He had been in street-gang fights since then, but he'd only used broken bottles or clubs, and sometimes he'd thrown bricks from the rooftops. But he'd never carried anything that could warrant a booking.
"You never owned one?" the cop asked.
"No, never," he lied.
"You know a guy called Luis?"
He knew instantly that it was Luis the Spic they were speaking of. He wet his lips. "Lots of guys named Luis," he said.
"Only one guy called Luis the Spic. You know him?"
"I know him," he said. "Sure. Everybody knows him."
"But you particularly, huh?"
"Why me, particularly?"
"Maybe because your name is Johnny Lane."
"That's my name," he said. "What's this all about?"
"Maybe because Luis tried to rape your girl say two or three weeks ago. Maybe, let's say, you and Luis had a big tangle outside the Apollo, with Luis pulling homemade brass knucks and trying to rip your face apart with them. Maybe that's why you know him particularly, huh, boy?"
"Luis tried to work over lots of guys. Everybody knows his brass knucks. He made 'em from a garbage-can handle. Besides, he's stayed away from me since that time near the Apollo. Luis don't bother me or my girl any more."
"You're right there, boy," the first cop said.
"What do you mean?"
"Luis ain't bothering anybody any more. It was Luis who got zip-gunned."
He wet his lips again. From up on Cathedral Parkway he heard a truck blasting its horn to the sky, high and strident. The blast hung on the silence of the November air, and he could almost taste the gasoline brackishness of the city. He sat still until the horn sound had dissolved, until all he could hear was the sound of muted traffic in the depth of the park, that and his own harsh breathing.
"I didn't shoot him," he said.
"I know," the first cop told him. "That's why you ran like a bastard when we came on the scene."
"Look," he said, appealing to their common sense now, "I didn't shoot him. I didn't like him, but there was lots of guys didn't like him." Their faces remained expressionless. "Look, why should I shoot him? I got plenty on my mind besides Luis the Spic."
"You're a big businessman," the second cop said wryly. "Lots of big deals on your mind."
"That ain't it, but ... Hey, look, why would I want to shoot the bastard? Hey, come on now, you don't really think ..."
He saw the look in the first cop's eyes. That same look was mirrored on the second cop's face. He saw, too, the irrefutable logic there. Luis the Spic had been gunned down. Luis was scum, but he was a citizen of this fair city. Someone had gunned the sonovabitch, and this was like tagging someone for a parking violation. Some big boy upstairs would raise six kinds of hell if this sort of thing went on, people cluttering up the streets with worthless garbage like Luis. First thing you knew, everyone would be leaving all their old gunned bodies around for the cops to clean up, and that would never do. There was only one way to handle a case of this exceptional caliber. Pull in the nearest sucker. Take Johnny, because he was as neat a patsy as the next guy, all made to order with an attempted rape on his girl, and a knock-down-drag-out right on 125th, where Luis had done his best to kill him. Pull in Johnny because all these tenement-crowded slobs were the same anyway, and if one of them fitted the bill, hang it on him.
He read the logic. He knew the logic, even if he didn't know it by name, because he'd read it in the eyes of cops ever since the days he used to swipe penny candies from Jake Soskovich on Lenox Avenue. Only this time it was homicide, and this time there wouldn't be a boot in the tail and a warning. People fried for homicide. Even when the dead man was a bastard like Luis.
You can't fight logic, but he tried to.
"Look," he said, "I mean it. Me and Luis was all squared away. I had no reason to —"
"Why'd you run?"
"Why'd you run?"
"Hell, I didn't want no trouble with the cops. You know —"
"You got it now, boy," the first cop said.
"What're you wastin' time arguing with a nigger for?" the second cop said, and now the logic was clear and simple, and Johnny understood it perfectly this time. Because coupled with the logic was the warning "Remember 1935," and 1935 was the year of the race riot, and the cops weren't taking any chances, nossir, not with zip guns in the picture. He read the logic like the writing on the wall, and this time he didn't try to fight it.
He brought his knee up into the groin of the first cop, and then clobbered him on the back of the head with both hands squeezed together like the head of a mallet. The cop fell to the pavement, and his buddy unsnapped the Police Special hanging in the holster near his right buttock. The shot rang out crisp and sharp, but Johnny was already behind the squad car, ducking around the grille, heading for the door near the driver's seat. He knew it was crazy, and he knew you didn't go around driving cops' cars, but taking the rap for Luis' kill was just as nuts, and he had nothing to lose now, not after the logic he had read.
He heard the second shot, and the third one, but he was already behind the wheel, his head ducked low, his hand releasing the emergency brake, his foot on the accelerator. The car leaped ahead, and then the shots came like bursts from a Tommy gun, fast and crackling, pinging against the sides of the car.
He heard the first cop banging his night stick against the pavement, and the pounding was as loud and as frightening as the bark of the other cop's gun. The last bullet found one of the rear tires, and the car lurched crazily, but he held onto the wheel and kept his foot pressed to the floor, and the rubber flapped and beat the asphalt as he headed crosstown. The cop had stopped to reload, and by the time the next shots came, he couldn't have hit the car if he'd been using a bazooka. He drove all the way down to Pleasant Avenue, wondering whether or not he should turn on the siren, a little excited about all of it now, a little reckless-feeling.
He ditched the car, and then ran like a thief up to First Avenue, cutting back uptown. He reached 116th Street, wondered where he should go then. Back home? That was the first place they'd look. Cindy's? No, they'd look there, too.
He stood on the corner for a moment, looking up toward the Third Avenue El, wondering. When he saw a squad car pull around Second Avenue, he made up his mind, and he made it up fast.
He didn't run this time. He walked casually, his head turned toward the shop windows that lined the street. He passed the big church, and then he passed the movie theatre west of Third Avenue, and he kept walking, unsure of himself because he was surrounded by whites, making sure he didn't look at any of the white women. He turned right on Lex, walking up toward 125th Street. On the corner of Lex and 125th, he looked back toward Third Avenue briefly, and then turned left, walking past the RKO Proctor's, past Park Avenue, past Madison Avenue and Mount Morris Park, past Fifth, penetrating deeper into Harlem.
He turned right again on Lenox Avenue, and now he was on his toes, watching for cops, because this was home ground and this was where they'd be looking. He walked cautiously. He tried to appear nonchalant, but his eyes raked each side street he passed, looking for the telltale white top of a squad car. There was a crowd in front of the synagogue on 128th, but there wasn't a cops' car in sight, so he figured it for a meeting or something. He kept walking uptown, looking west on 134th to the Y.M.C.A. and then to the Public Library on 135th.
Excerpted from Runaway by Ed McBain. Copyright © 1954 Ed McBain. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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