“You will all remain seated. Anyone who tries to get up, or even moves, will be shot. There will be no further warning. If you move you will be killed…”
Four men, armed with submachine guns, have seized a New York City subway train, holding all seventeen passengers—and the entire city—hostage. The identities of the hijackers are unknown. Their demands seem impossible. Their threats are real. Their escape seems inconceivable.
Only one thing is certain: they aren’t stopping for anything.
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Steever stood on the southbound local platform of theLexington Avenue line at Fifty- ninth Street and chewed hisgum with a gentle motion of his heavy jaws, like a softmouthedretriever schooled to hold game firmly but withoutbruising it.
His posture was relaxed and at the same time emphatic,as if a low center of gravity and some inner certitude combinedto make him casually immovable. He wore a navyblue raincoat, neatly buttoned, and a dark gray hat tiltedforward, not rakishly but squarely, the brim bent at a sharpangle over his forehead, throwing a rhomboid of shadowover his eyes. His sideburns and the hair at the back of hishead were white, dramatic against the darkness of his complexion,unexpected in a man who appeared to be in hisearly thirties.
The florist’s box was outsize, suggesting an opulent,even overwhelming burst of blooms inside, designed forsome once- in- a-lifetime anniversary or to make amendsfor an enormous sin or betrayal. If any of the passengerson the platform were inclined to smile at that joke of aflorist’s box, in respect of the unlikely man who held it sonegligently under his arm, aimed upward at a forty- five degreeangle toward the grimy station ceiling, they managedto suppress it. He wasn’t a man to smile at, howeversympathetically.
Steever did not stir, or show any sign of anticipation oreven awareness, when the approaching train gave off itsfirst distant vibrations, gradually increasing through variouslevels and quantities of sound. Four- eyed—amber andwhite marker lights over white sealed- beam headlights—Pelham One Two Three lumbered into the station. Brakessighed; the train settled; the doors rattled open. Steeverwas positioned precisely so that he faced the center doorof the fifth car of the ten- car train. He entered the car,turned left, and walked to the isolated double seat directlyfacing the conductor’s cab. It was unoccupied. He satdown, standing the florist’s box between his knees, andglancing incuriously at the back of the conductor, whowas leaning well forward out of his window, inspecting theplatform.
Steever clasped his hands on the top of the florist’sbox. They were very broad hands, with short, thick fingers.The doors closed, and the train started with a lurchthat tilted the passengers first backward, then forward.Steever, without seeming to brace himself, barely moved.
Ryder withheld the token for a part of a second— a pausethat was imperceptible to an eye but that his consciousnessregistered— before dropping it into the slot and pushingthrough the turnstile. Walking toward the platform,he examined his hesitancy with the token. Nerves? Nonsense.A concession, maybe even a form of consecration, onthe eve of battle, but nothing else. You lived or you died.Holding the brown valise in his left hand, the heavilyweighted Valpac in his right, he stepped onto the Twenty eighthStreet station platform and walked toward thesouth end. He stopped on a line with the placard thathung over the edge of the platform, bearing the number10, black on a white ground, indicating the point wherethe front of a ten- car train stopped. As usual, there were afew front- end haunters— as he had taken to thinking of them— including the inevitable overachiever who stoodwell beyond the 10 placard, and would have to scurryback when the train came in. The front- enders, he hadlong ago determined, expressed a dominant facet of thehuman condition: the mindless need to be first, to runahead of the pack for the simple sake of being ahead.He eased back against the wall and set his suitcasesdown, one on each side of him, just touching the edge ofhis shoes. His navy blue raincoat touched the wall onlylightly, but any contact would ensure picking up grime,grit, dust particles, even, possibly, some graffito freshly appliedin hot red lipstick and even hotter bitterness orirony. Shrugging, he pulled the brim of his dark- gray hatdecisively lower over his eyes, which were gray and stilland set deeply in bony sockets, promising a more asceticface than the rounded cheeks and the puffy area aroundhis lips justified. He leaned more of his weight against thewall and slid his hands into the deep slashed pockets ofthe coat. A fingernail caught on a fluff of nylon. Gently,using his free hand outside the pocket to anchor the nylon,he disengaged his finger and withdrew his hand.
A rumbling sound heightened to a clatter, and an expresstrain whipped through on the northbound track, itslights flickering between the pillars like a defective moviefilm. At the edge of the platform, a man glared at the disappearingexpress, then turned to Ryder, appealing forcommunion, for sympathy. Ryder looked at him with theabsolute neutrality that was the authentic mask of the subwayrider, of any New Yorker, or perhaps the actual faceNew Yorkers were born with, or issued, or, wherever theywere born, assumed once they won their spurs as bona fideresidents. The man, indifferent to the rebuff, paced theplatform, muttering indignantly. Beyond him, across thefour sets of tracks, the northbound platform provided adreary mirror image of the southbound: the tiled rectanglereading “28th Street,” the dirty walls, the gray floor,the resigned or impatient passengers, the rear- end haunters(and what was their hangup?)...
The pacing man turned abruptly to the edge of theplatform, planted his feet on the yellow line, bent at thewaist, and peered back down the track. Down- platform,there were three more leaners, supplicants praying to thedark tunnel beyond the station. Ryder heard the sound ofan approaching train and saw the leaners retreat, butonly a few inches, giving ground grudgingly, cautiouslychallenging the train to kill them if it dared. It swept intothe station, and its front end stopped in precise alignmentwith the overhanging placard. Ryder looked at his watch.Two to go. Ten minutes. He came away from the wall,turned, and studied the nearby poster.
It was the Levy’s Bread ad, an old friend. He had firstseen it when it was newly installed, pristine and unmarked.But it had begun accumulating graffiti (or defacements, inthe official language) almost at once. It pictured a blackchild eating Levy’s bread, and the caption read YOU DON’THAVE TO BE JEWISH TO LOVE LEVY’S. This was followed byan angry scrawl in red ballpoint ink: BUT YOU DO HAVE TOBE A NIGGER TO CHEAT ON WELFARE AND SUPPORT YOURLITTLE BLACK BASTARDS. Beneath that, in block letters, asif to cancel out bitterness with the simple antidote of piety,were the words JESUS SAVES. But still another hand, neitherraging nor sweet, perhaps above the battle, had addedPLAID STAMPS.
Three separate entries followed, whose message Ryderhad never been able to fathom:
VOICE IDENTIFICATION DOES NOT PROVE SPEECH CONTENT.PSYCHIATRY IS BASED ON FICTION NOVELS. SCREWWORMSCAUSE SPITTING. After that, the ideologue took overagain, riposte following riposte: MARX STINX. SO DOES JESUSCHRIST. SO DOES PANTHER. SO DOES EVERYBODY. SO DOES I.Such as it was, Ryder thought, it was the true voice of thepeople, squeezing out their anxieties into the public view,never questioning that they deserved a hearing. He turnedaway from the poster and watched the tail of the train whipout of the station. He put his back against the wall again,between his suitcases, and looked casually down- platform.A figure in blue was walking toward him. Ryder picked outhis insignia— a Transit Authority cop. He noted details: oneshoulder lower than the other so that he seemed to be listing,bushy carrot- colored sideburns curling down to a pointan inch below the earlobes... A car length away the TAcop stopped, glanced at him, then faced squarely outward.He folded his arms across his chest, unfolded them, tookhis hat off. The hair on top of his head was reddish brown,several shades darker than his sideburns, and it was mattedfrom the pressure of the hat. He looked into his hat, thenput it back on his head and folded his arms again.
Across the tracks a northbound local arrived, paused,and moved on. The TA cop turned his head and foundRyder looking at him. He faced front immediatelyand straightened his back. It brought his low shoulder upand improved his posture.
As soon as a train cleared a station, the conductor wasexpected to step out of the shelter of his cab and provideinformation and other assistance as requested by the ridingpublic. Bud Carmody was well aware that too few conductorsfollowed this regulation. More often than notthey just hung around in the cab staring at the colorlesswalls racing by. But that wasn’t the way he ran the job. Hedid it by the book, and more: He liked maintaining a neatappearance; he liked presenting a smiling countenanceand answering dumb questions. He enjoyed his work.Bud Carmody regarded his affection for the railroad asa matter of inheritance. One of his uncles had been a motorman(recently retired after thirty years on the road), andas a boy Bud had admired him extravagantly. On a fewoccasions— on calm, lazy Sunday runs— his uncle hadsmuggled him into the cab and even let him touch the controls.So, from boyhood on, Bud set his sights on becominga motorman. Right after graduating high school, hetook the Civil Ser vice test, which offered the option of beinga conductor or a bus driver. Although driving a buspaid better, he wasn’t tempted; his interest lay in the railroad.Now, when he became eligible by serving six monthsas a conductor— only forty days more to go— he wouldtake the motorman test.
Meanwhile, he was having a good time. He had takento the job right from the start and had even enjoyed thetraining period—twenty- eight days of school, followed bya week on actual runs under the tutelage of an experiencedman. Matson, who had broken him in on the runs, was anold- timer with a year to go to retirement. He was a goodteacher, but he had soured on the job and was direly pessimisticabout the future of the railroad. He predicted thatfive years hence it would be patronized exclusively by niggersand spies and maybe run by them, too. Matson wasa walking encyclopedia of atrocity stories, and if you tookhim seriously, working a subway train was just a trifle lesshazardous than frontline duty in Vietnam. Hour by hour,according to Matson, a conductor risked serious bodilyinjury or even death, and you could consider yourselfblessed if you survived the day.
A lot of the older conductors— and even some of theyounger ones— peddled tales of horror, and while Buddidn’t exactly disbelieve them, he certainly hadn’t had anytrouble himself. Oh, sure, a few times passengers hadcussed him out, but that was to be expected. The conductorwas visible, so, naturally, he was blamed for everythingthat went wrong. But outside of dirty looks and someverbal abuse, he had had absolutely none of the bad experiencesthe old- timers kept dwelling on, such as being spatat, beaten up, robbed, stabbed, vomited on by drunks,mobbed by school kids, or hit in the face by someone onthe platform as you leaned out of your window when thetrain pulled out of a station. The last of these worried conductorsthe most, and there were a million horror stories:about the conductor who had taken a finger in the eyeballand eventually lost the eye; about another who had hisnose broken by a fist; about still another who was grabbedby the hair and nearly pulled out the window...
“Fifty- first Street, this station is Fifty- first Street.”He delivered his announcement into the mike in aclear, cheerful voice, and it pleased him to know that itwas heard simultaneously in all ten cars. As the trainmoved into the station, he inserted his skate key (it wasproperly known as a drumstick key, but everyone called itskate key) into the receptacle in the bottom of the paneland turned it to the right. Then he inserted the door keyand, as soon as the train stopped, pressed the buttons toopen the doors.
He leaned far out of his window to check the passengersgetting on and off, then shut the doors, rear sectionfirst, then front section. He checked his indication box,which was lit up to show that the doors were all closedand locked. The train started, and he hung out the windowfor the regulation three car lengths, to make surethat nobody was being dragged. This was where a lot ofthe old- timers cheated, with their morbid fear of beingassaulted.
“Grand Central station, next stop. The next stop isGrand Central.”
He stepped out of the cab and took up a position againstthe storm door. He folded his arms across his chest, andstudied the passengers. It was his favorite pastime. Heplayed at trying to figure out, from the passengers’ appearanceand attitudes, what their lives were like: whatkind of work they did, how much money they made, whereand how they lived, even what place they were headed for.In some cases it was easy— delivery boys, women wholooked like house wives, domestics or secretaries, old retiredpeople. But with others, especially the better class, itposed a real challenge. Was a well- dressed man a teacher,a lawyer, a salesman, a business executive? Actually, exceptfor rush hours, there weren’t too many of the better classriding the IRT; it ran a poor third to the BMT and theIND. He couldn’t explain why. Maybe it was a matter ofroutes, of better neighborhoods, but it was hard to provethat. It might be due to the fact that the IRT was theoldest of the three divisions, with fewer routes and lessequipment (which was why its training period was onlytwenty- eight days compared to thirty- two on the otherdivisions), but you couldn’t really prove that either.He braced himself against the roll of the train (actually,he liked the motion and his ability to adapt to it the waya sailor developed sea legs) and focused his attention onthe man sitting facing the cab. He was striking for hissize— breadth, really, he wasn’t all that tall— and his whitehair. He was well dressed in a dark raincoat and new hat,and his shoes were highly polished, so he was certainly nomessenger, in spite of the large, fat florist’s box betweenhis knees. That meant he had bought the flowers for someoneand would be delivering them in person. Looking athim, the kind of tough face he had, you wouldn’t havethought of him as somebody who bought flowers. But youcouldn’t tell a book by its cover, which was what made lifeinteresting. He could be anything— a college professor,a poet...
The decelerating train dragged under Bud’s feet. Heset the pleasant puzzle to one side and went into the cab.“Grand Central station. Change for the express. This isGrand Central... ”
Over the years, Ryder had developed some theories aboutfear— two, to be exact. The first was that it had to be handledthe way a good infielder played a ground ball; he didn’twait for it to come to him, he went to meet it, he forcedthe issue. Ryder coped with fear by confronting it. Sothat, instead of looking elsewhere, he stared directly atthe transit cop. The cop became aware of his scrutiny andturned to him, then quickly averted his gaze. After that hekept his eyes to the front, self- consciously rigid. His facewas slightly reddened, and Ryder knew that he would besweating, too.
Ryder’s second theory— which the cop, helpfully, wasillustrating— was that people in tight situations showedstress because they wanted to. They were appealing formercy for their harmlessness, as a dog did who rolled onhis back for a fiercer or larger dog. They were making apublic display of their symptoms, rather than controllingthem. He was convinced that, short of pissing your pants,which was involuntary, you only showed fear to the degreethat you wanted or allowed yourself to show.
Ryder’s theories were offshoots of the very simple philosophythat ruled his life and that he rarely talked about.Not even under friendly pressure. Especially not under pressure,friendly or otherwise. He remembered a conversationwith a doctor in the Congo. He had walked bloody- leggedto a forward aid station to have a bullet removed from histhigh. The doctor was an Indian, with an elegant, amusedair, who plucked a spent rifle round out of his flesh with aflourish of his forceps, a man who was as interested in formas substance, a man with style, which didn’t at all explainwhat he was doing serving in a crazy little African war betweentwo highly disorganized factions of wild- eyed niggers.
Except money. Except? It was a good enough reason.
The doctor held the bloody metal up for him to viewbefore flipping if into a basin, then cocked his head andsaid, “Are you not the officer they call Captain Ironass?”The doctor wore major’s pips, not that rank meant allthat much in this funny army, except as an insigne of aman’s salary. The doctor dragged down a hundred ortwo more a month than he did.
“Excuse me,” Ryder said. “You’re looking at it. Is itiron?”
“No need to get shirty,” the doctor said. He framed apacking against the wound and discarded it for a smallerone. “Just curiosity. You’ve developed a bit of a reputation.”
“Fearlessness.” He held the packing in place deftly withslender brown fingers. “Or recklessness. Opinion is divided.”Ryder shrugged. In a corner of the medical tent a blacksoldier, half- naked, lay doubled up on a stretcher, cryingsoftly but persistently. The doctor found him with a longlook, and the man became silent.
“I’d be interested in hearing your own judgment of thematter,” the doctor said.
Ryder shrugged again and watched the brown fingersapplying tape to the dressing. Wait until the tape had tobe pulled away from the hair. That would be a test of courage.The doctor paused, his dark face turned upward humorously.Ryder said, “You’ve probably seen more than I have,Major. I defer to you.”
The doctor spoke confidently. “No such characteristicas fearlessness. Recklessness, yes. Not caring, yes. Somepeople wish to die.”
“Can’t really say, not knowing you. All I know is rumor.You can put your trousers on now.”
Ryder examined the bloody tear in his pants beforepulling them up. “Too bad,” he said. “I was counting onyou for a conclusion.”
“I am not a psychiatrist,” the doctor said in half apology.
“Not me.” Ryder picked up his steel helmet— it wasremaindered World War II Wehrmacht goods— and put iton, tapping it down firmly so that the short brim shadowedhis eyes. “I’m not the least bit curious.”
The major flushed, then gave a sporting smile. “Well,I do think I’ve gained an insight to why they call youCaptain Ironass. Take care of yourself.”
Watching the unhappy profile of the transit’ cop, Ryderthought: I could have given the Indian doctor an answer,but he would probably have misinterpreted it and concludedthat I was talking about reincarnation. You live oryou die, Major, that’s my simple philosophy. You lived oryou died. Which didn’t translate as either recklessnessor fearlessness. It didn’t mean you courted death or saw nomystery or loss in death. It just canceled out most of thecomplications of existing, just reduced the principal uncertaintyof life to a workable formula. No excruciating explorationof possibilities, just the stark profundity of yes or no:You lived or you died.
A train was coming into the station. Near the transitcop, directly under the number 8 marker, a leaner wasbent so far forward that he appeared to have overcommittedhimself. Ryder tensed and almost made a first step towardthe man, to pull him back to safety, thinking: No,not today, not now. But the man drew back at the lastmoment, his hands thrown out wardingly in a belated reflex of fright. The train stopped, and the doors opened.The transit cop stepped in.
Ryder looked at the motorman. He was sitting on hismetal stool, his arm resting on his half- open window. Hewas a black man— no, black was a misnomer, Ryderthought, a political color; actually, he was a light tan—and he was indifferently covering a stretching yawn withhis hand. He glanced out of his window without interest,then checked his indication box, which, like the conductor’s,lit up when the doors were closed and locked.
The train started. Its designation (since headway betweenlocal trains was five minutes at this time of day)would be Pelham One One Eight, according to the simple,effective system that identified a train by the prefix ofits terminus and the suffix of its time of departure fromthat terminus. Thus, having left Pelham Bay Park stationat 1:18 P.M., its designation was Pelham One One Eight.On the return trip from its southern terminus, BrooklynBridge station, its new designation would be somethingon the order of Brooklyn Bridge Two One Four. At least,Ryder thought, that would be the case on a normal day.But today was not a normal day; today there would besome considerable disruption of the schedule.
As the third car of the train went by, Ryder spotted thetransit cop. He was leaning against a pole, and his rightshoulder was low, so low that he looked as if he were standingon an incline. Suppose he hadn’t got on the train? Theyhad prearranged a signal for aborting if some unforeseendanger arose. Would he have used it? Would he have withdrawnfrom the engagement to fight another day? He gavea minimal shake of his head. No need to answer. What youmight have done didn’t count, only what you did.
The last car of the train sped past the platform and intothe tunnel toward Twenty- third Street. New passengerswere appearing. A young black man— this one was thecolor of bitter chocolate— was first, splendid in a sky- bluecloak, red and blue checkerboard pants, tan shoes with athree- inch heel, a black leather beret. He came on in aloose- jointed swagger, strutted by, and took up his positiona car length beyond the 10 marker. Almost immediately,he leaned over the platform and stared northwardwith affront.
Peace, brother, Ryder thought, Pelham One Two Threewill be pulling in in less than five minutes, and being hostiletoward the track won’t bring it along any sooner. Theyoung black turned suddenly, as if aware that he was beingwatched. He faced Ryder squarely, his eyes defiant,glaring out of clear, hard whites. Ryder met the challengewithout interest, his own eyes mild, and thought: Relax,brother, conserve your energy, you might need it.
At Grand Central, responding to the hold signal, threehorizontal yellow lights, Pelham One Two Three kept itsdoors open, waiting for the next express train to pull in.Joe Welcome had been on the platform for fifteen minutes,restless and edgy, checking the arrival and departureof local trains against his watch, glaring at the expresstrains for their irrelevance. Fidgeting, he had walked anerratic sentry post of thirty or forty feet, alternately eyeingthe women on the platform and himself in the mirrors ofthe vending machines. The women were all crummy andmade his lip curl. An ugly broad was a curse. He derivedmore satisfaction from his own image— the handsome,reckless face, olive skin a shade paler than usual, the darkeyes glowing with a strange fire. Now that he had got usedto the mustache and the sideburns that curved inward towardhis lips in a pointed flourish, he kind of liked them.
They were a hell of a good match with the soft glossy blackof his hair.
When he heard Pelham One Two Three come in, JoeWelcome walked back to the last car. He was sharp andjaunty in his navy blue raincoat, slightly suppressed at thewaist, ending an inch or two above the knees. His hat wasdark gray, with a narrow curled brim and a bright yellowcockade flowering out of the band. When the train stopped,he went in through the last door, pushing against theflow of three or four people seeking to get out. His valise,brown and tan in wide alternate stripes, banged against theknee of a young Puerto Rican girl. She gave him a sidelongresentful look and muttered something.
“You talk to me, spic?”
“Why’n you watch where you go?”
“Up you brown ass, righ’?”
She started to say something but, assessing the malice ofhis smile, changed her mind. She stepped out of the train,looking back over her shoulder indignantly. Across theplatform, the express train came in, and a few passengerstrickled into the local. Welcome glanced into the rear halfof the car, then began to walk toward the front, looking atthe passengers on both sides of the aisle. He passed into thenext car, and as the door slid shut behind him, the trainstarted with a sudden jerk, throwing him off balance. Recovering awkwardly, he glared forward at the motormaneight cars ahead.
“Mother,” he said aloud, “where you learn to drive afucking train?”
Still glaring, he walked on, his eyes sweeping the passengers.People. Meat. No cops, nothing that looked like ahero. He walked with confidence, and the sharp soundof his footfall compelled attention. It pleased him to see somany eyes turn up to him, and it pleased him even more tostare them down, mowing a whole row of eyes down likeducks in a shooting gallery. He never missed. Bang, bang,down they went. It was his eyes. Occhi violenti, his unclehad called them. Violent eyes, and he knew how to usethem, he knew how to scare the piss out of people.
In the fifth car, he located Steever at the far end. Heflicked a look at him, but Steever ignored him, his facestolid and vacant. On his way to the next car he brushedby the conductor, a young stud neatly dressed in pressedblue, the golden Transit Authority badge on his billed hatbrightly polished. He hurried on and reached the first caras the train decelerated. He put his back against the doorand placed his valise on the floor between the points ofhis Spanish shoes.
“Thirty- third Street, station stop is Thirty- thirdStreet.”
The conductor’s voice was high- pitched but strong,and the amplification made it sound like the voice of a bigman. But he was a pale redheaded string bean, Welcomethought, and if you hit him right you would probablybreak his jaw like a piece of china. The image of a jaw fragmentinglike a fragile teacup struck him as funny. Then hefrowned, remembering Steever sitting there like a chunkof wood with that flower box between his legs. That wasSteever, a dumb ape. Plenty of muscle, but just muscle; upstairswas an empty room. Steever. With the flower box,yet.
A few passengers got off; a few entered. Welcomepicked out Longman, sitting opposite the motorman’s cab.He was quite a distance away. The car was seventy- twofeet long, right? Seventy- two feet, and it had forty- fourseats. The BMT and the IND, what they called the B-1and B-2 divisions (IRT was the A Division, right?), wereseventy- five feet long, and they had up to sixty- five seats.Big deal, making him learn that shit. Nothing.
As the doors started to shut, a chick bumped it backwith her shoulder and slipped in. He looked at her withinterest. Short- short mini skirt, long legs in white boots,a little round ass. So far so good, Welcome thought, nowlet’s see the front view. He smiled as she turned, andchecked off great boobs stretching away at some kind of alight- pink sweater under a short green jacket that matchedthe little skirt. Big eyes, heavy fake lashes, wide gorgeousmouth with lots of bright- red lipstick, long black hair fallingstraight down out of one of those sexy soldier hats withthe brim curved up on one side, flat against the crown.Australian? Anzac. An Anzac hat.
She took a seat in the front half of the car, and whenshe crossed her legs, the little skirt climbed halfway upto her neck. Nice. He concentrated on the long expanseof thigh and leg and visualized them wrapped around hisneck. For starters.
“Twenty- eighth Street.” The conductor’s voice, singing out like an angel. “Next stop is Twenty- eighthStreet.”
Welcome wedged his hip securely against the brasshandle of the door. Twenty- eighth Street. Okay. He madea rough count of the seated passengers. About thirty or so,plus a couple of kids standing up, looking out of the frontstorm door. About half of them would have to get theboot. But not the chick in the funny hat. She was staying,no matter what Ryder or anybody said. Crazy, thinkingabout pussy at a time like this? So he was crazy. Butshe was staying. She would provide, like they say, the loveinterest.
In the first car of the train, Longman sat in the seat thatcorresponded to Steever’s, five cars back. It was directlyopposite the shut steel door of the motorman’s cab, decoratedwith an elaborately scripted signature in hot pink:PANCHO 777. His package, covered in heavy wrappingpaper and bound with coarse yellow twine, was markedin black crayon: “Everest Printing Corp., 826 LafayetteStreet.” He held it between his knees, with his forearmsresting on its top, and his fingers loosely burrowed beneaththe intersection where the strands of twine wereknotted.
He had boarded Pelham One Two Three at Eighty- sixthStreet, to make certain that, at some point before Twenty eighthStreet, he would find the seat opposite the cab unoccupied.Not that that particular seat was essential, but hehad been stubborn about it. He had won his point, butonly because nobody cared about it one way or another. Herealized now that he had pressed for it because he knewthere would be no opposition. Otherwise, Ryder wouldhave made the decision. Wasn’t it actually because of Ryderthat he was here at all, about to plunge into a nightmarewide awake?
He watched the two boys at the window of the stormdoor. They were about eight and ten, identically plumpand round- faced, both healthfully flushed and intent ontheir game of driving the train through the tunnel, to anorchestrated accompaniment of appropriate clicks andhisses of voice and tongue. He wished that they weren’tthere, but it was inevitable. On any given train, at anygiven time, there was sure to be a kid or two— sometimes,an adult!— romantically playing motorman. Some romance!When the train reached Thirty- third Street, he beganto sweat. Not gradually, but all at once, as if a heat wavehad suddenly swept through the car. It broke out all overhis body and face, an oily slick that fogged the darkshades over his eyes and spilled down his chest, his legs,his crotch... For an instant, as the train entered thetunnel, it bucked, and he felt a heart- stopping surge ofhope. His mind leaped to round out the picture: Somethingwrong with the motor, the motorman hits the brakeand lays dead. The shop sends a car knocker; he looks itover, scratches his head. So they have to cut the power,dump their load, lead their passengers to an emergencyexit, and haul the train away to the yard...
But the buck disappeared, and Longman knew— as hehad all along— that the train was okay. Either the motormanhad made a clumsy start, or it was just a train thatbucked, one of those dogs that motormen hated to getstuck with.
Not because he believed in them, but out of desperation,his mind sought out other possibilities. Suppose oneof the others had suddenly taken sick or been in an accident?No. Steever wouldn’t have the brains to know hewas sick, and Ryder... Ryder would get off his deathbedif he had to. Maybe Welcome, feisty and crazy as he was,had gotten into a fight over some fancied insult—He looked back to the rear of the car and saw Welcomethere.
I’m going to die today.
The thought came unbidden to his mind, accompaniedby a sudden gust of heat, as though a flash fire had beentouched off inside his body. He felt suffocated and wantedto tear his clothing off and give his burning body air. Hefumbled at the button at the neck of his raincoat andworked it half free before stopping. Ryder had said theyweren’t to open any part of the coat. His fingers forcedthe button back through the buttonhole.
His legs began to tremble, shivering down their lengthto his shoes. He placed his hands on his knees, palms flat,and pressed downward to nail his feet to the dirty compositionfloor, to stop their involuntary little jig of fear. Washe being conspicuous? Were people staring at him? But hedidn’t dare look up to see. Like an ostrich. He looked athis hands and saw them crawl under the knotted twine onthe package, twist into it until they began to hurt. Hepulled his fingers away, examined them, and then blewcooling breath on his reddened index finger and forefinger.Through the window opposite his seat the gray rushingwall of the tunnel blinked out and widened into thetile of the station wall.
“Twenty- eighth Street. Station is Twenty- eighth Street.”
He was up on his feet. His legs were trembling, but hewas moving well enough, dragging his package after him.He stood facing the cab door, bracing against the train’srapid deceleration. Outside, the platform was becomingless of a blur, slowing down. The two boys at the stormdoor were making hissing noises as they put the brakeson. He glanced at the rear of the car. Welcome had notmoved. Through the storm door he watched the platformjerk to a stop. People were moving forward, waiting forthe doors to open. He saw Ryder.
Ryder was leaning against the wall, very relaxed.
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