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The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

by John Godey
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

by John Godey

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A New York subway train is taken hostage in this “high-voltage thriller with the kick of a third rail” (The Washington Post).
A New York Times Bestseller
After a New York City train leaves the Pelham station at 1:23 p.m., four armed men take control of it—along with seventeen passengers. Their demands are simple: deliver one million dollars, or the hostages will be killed one by one. Fast-paced and intensely psychological, this novel tells the story from the point of view of each of the hijackers—revealing each man’s motivations, desperations, and fatal flaws.
The basis of a blockbuster 1974 movie that was remade in 2009 with Denzel Washington and John Travolta, this classic modern thriller will have you on the edge of your seat, and holding on tight.
“Entertaining . . . Clever in its details, frequently quite funny, and witty in its comments on how New York City functions . . . [A] slam-bang ending.” —The New York Times
“A wild ride.” —The Pittsburgh Press
“Harrowing, terrifying, and so, so good.” —BusinessWeek

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780795333880
Publisher: RosettaBooks
Publication date: 08/01/2013
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 373
Sales rank: 396,464
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

John Godey is the alias of Morton Freedgood (1913–2006), an American novelist born in New York City. While working in public relations for 20th Century Fox, Paramount, and other film companies, he published numerous short stories in magazines such as Esquire and Cosmopolitan. He published more serious novels under his own name, and used the alias "John Godey" to write crime novels. It was under his alias that his writing saw the most success. Some of his most successful works include A Thrill a Minute with Jack Albany, a series that later became a Disney movie; and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, a 1973 bestseller later made into a blockbuster motion picture.

Read an Excerpt



Steever stood on the southbound local platform of the Lexington Avenue line at Fifty-ninth Street and chewed his gum with a gentle motion of his heavy jaws, like a soft-mouthed retriever schooled to hold game firmly but without bruising it.

His posture was relaxed and at the same time emphatic, as if a low center of gravity and some inner certitude combined to make him casually immovable. He wore a navy blue raincoat, neatly buttoned, and a dark gray hat tilted forward, not rakishly but squarely, the brim bent at a sharp angle over his forehead, throwing a rhomboid of shadow over his eyes. His sideburns and the hair at the back of his head were white, dramatic against the darkness of his complexion, unexpected in a man who appeared to be in his early thirties.

The florist's box was outsize, suggesting an opulent, even overwhelming burst of blooms inside, designed for some once-in-a-lifetime anniversary or to make amends for an enormous sin or betrayal. If any of the passengers on the platform were inclined to smile at that joke of a florist's box, in respect of the unlikely man who held it so negligently under his arm, aimed upward at a forty-five-degree angle toward the grimy station ceiling, they managed to suppress it. He wasn't a man to smile at, however sympathetically.

Steever did not stir, or show any sign of anticipation or even awareness, when the approaching train gave off its first distant vibrations, gradually increasing through various levels and quantities of sound. Four-eyed — amber and white marker lights over white sealed-beam headlights — Pelham One Two Three lumbered into the station. Brakes sighed; the train settled; the doors rattled open. Steever was positioned precisely so that he faced the center door of the fifth car of the ten-car train. He entered the car, turned left, and walked to the isolated double seat directly facing the conductor's cab. It was unoccupied. He sat down, standing the florist's box between his knees, and glancing incuriously at the back of the conductor, who was leaning well forward out of his window, inspecting the platform.

Steever clasped his hands on the top of the florist's box. They were very broad hands, with short, thick fingers. The doors closed, and the train started with a lurch that 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 pause that was imperceptible to an eye but that his consciousness registered — before dropping it into the slot and pushing through the turnstile. Walking toward the platform, he examined his hesitancy with the token. Nerves? Nonsense. A concession, maybe even a form of consecration, on the eve of battle, but nothing else. You lived or you died.

Holding the brown valise in his left hand, the heavily weighted Valpac in his right, he stepped onto the Twenty-eighth Street station platform and walked toward the south end. He stopped on a line with the placard that hung over the edge of the platform, bearing the number 10, black on a white ground, indicating the point where the front of a ten-car train stopped. As usual, there were a few front-end haunters — as he had taken to thinking of them — including the inevitable overachiever who stood well beyond the 10 placard, and would have to scurry back when the train came in. The front-enders, he had long ago determined, expressed a dominant facet of the human condition: the mindless need to be first, to run ahead of the pack for the simple sake of being ahead.

He eased back against the wall and set his suitcases down, one on each side of him, just touching the edge of his shoes. His navy blue raincoat touched the wall only lightly, but any contact would ensure picking up grime, grit, dust particles, even, possibly, some graffito freshly applied in hot red lipstick and even hotter bitterness or irony. Shrugging, he pulled the brim of his dark-gray hat decisively lower over his eyes, which were gray and still and set deeply in bony sockets, promising a more ascetic face than the rounded cheeks and the puffy area around his lips justified. He leaned more of his weight against the wall and slid his hands into the deep slashed pockets of the 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 express train whipped through on the northbound track, its lights flickering between the pillars like a defective movie film. At the edge of the platform, a man glared at the disappearing express, then turned to Ryder, appealing for communion, for sympathy. Ryder looked at him with the absolute neutrality that was the authentic mask of the subway rider, of any New Yorker, or perhaps the actual face New Yorkers were born with, or issued, or, wherever they were born, assumed once they won their spurs as bona fide residents. The man, indifferent to the rebuff, paced the platform, muttering indignantly. Beyond him, across the four sets of tracks, the northbound platform provided a dreary mirror image of the southbound: the tiled rectangle reading "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 the platform, planted his feet on the yellow line, bent at the waist, and peered back down the track. Down-platform, there were three more leaners, supplicants praying to the dark tunnel beyond the station. Ryder heard the sound of an approaching train and saw the leaners retreat, but only a few inches, giving ground grudgingly, cautiously challenging the train to kill them if it dared. It swept into the station, and its front end stopped in precise alignment with 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 first seen it when it was newly installed, pristine and unmarked. But it had begun accumulating graffiti (or defacements, in the official language) almost at once. It pictured a black child eating Levy's bread, and the caption read YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE JEWISH TO LOVE LEVY'S. This was followed by an angry scrawl in red ballpoint ink: BUT YOU DO HAVE TO BE A NIGGER TO CHEAT ON WELFARE AND SUPPORT YOUR LITTLE BLACK BASTARDS. Beneath that, in block letters, as if to cancel out bitterness with the simple antidote of piety, were the words JESUS SAVES. But still another hand, neither raging nor sweet, perhaps above the battle, had added PLAID STAMPS.

Three separate entries followed, whose message Ryder had never been able to fathom:


Such as it was, Ryder thought, it was the true voice of the people, squeezing out their anxieties into the public view, never questioning that they deserved a hearing. He turned away from the poster and watched the tail of the train whip out 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 out his insignia — a Transit Authority cop. He noted details: one shoulder lower than the other so that he seemed to be listing, bushy carrot-colored sideburns curling down to a point an inch below the earlobes. ... A car length away the TA cop stopped, glanced at him, then faced squarely outward. He folded his arms across his chest, unfolded them, took his hat off. The hair on top of his head was reddish brown, several shades darker than his sideburns, and it was matted from the pressure of the hat. He looked into his hat, then put 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 found Ryder looking at him. He faced front immediately and straightened his back. It brought his low shoulder up and improved his posture.


As soon as a train cleared a station, the conductor was expected to step out of the shelter of his cab and provide information and other assistance as requested by the riding public. Bud Carmody was well aware that too few conductors followed this regulation. More often than not they just hung around in the cab staring at the colorless walls racing by. But that wasn't the way he ran the job. He did it by the book, and more: He liked maintaining a neat appearance; he liked presenting a smiling countenance and answering dumb questions. He enjoyed his work.

Bud Carmody regarded his affection for the railroad as a matter of inheritance. One of his uncles had been a motorman (recently retired after thirty years on the road), and as a boy Bud had admired him extravagantly. On a few occasions — on calm, lazy Sunday runs — his uncle had smuggled him into the cab and even let him touch the controls. So, from boyhood on, Bud set his sights on becoming a motorman. Right after graduating high school, he took the Civil Service test, which offered the option of being a conductor or a bus driver. Although driving a bus paid better, he wasn't tempted; his interest lay in the railroad. Now, when he became eligible by serving six months as a conductor — only forty days more to go — he would take the motorman test.

Meanwhile, he was having a good time. He had taken to the job right from the start and had even enjoyed the training period — twenty-eight days of school, followed by a week on actual runs under the tutelage of an experienced man. Matson, who had broken him in on the runs, was an old-timer with a year to go to retirement. He was a good teacher, but he had soured on the job and was direly pessimistic about the future of the railroad. He predicted that five years hence it would be patronized exclusively by niggers and spies and maybe run by them, too. Matson was a walking encyclopedia of atrocity stories, and if you took him seriously, working a subway train was just a trifle less hazardous than frontline duty in Vietnam. Hour by hour, according to Matson, a conductor risked serious bodily injury or even death, and you could consider yourself blessed if you survived the day.

A lot of the older conductors — and even some of the younger ones — peddled tales of horror, and while Bud didn't exactly disbelieve them, he certainly hadn't had any trouble himself. Oh, sure, a few times passengers had cussed him out, but that was to be expected. The conductor was visible, so, naturally, he was blamed for everything that went wrong. But outside of dirty looks and some verbal abuse, he had had absolutely none of the bad experiences the old-timers kept dwelling on, such as being spat at, beaten up, robbed, stabbed, vomited on by drunks, mobbed by school kids, or hit in the face by someone on the platform as you leaned out of your window when the train pulled out of a station. The last of these worried conductors the most, and there were a million horror stories: about the conductor who had taken a finger in the eyeball and eventually lost the eye; about another who had his nose broken by a fist; about still another who was grabbed by 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 a clear, cheerful voice, and it pleased him to know that it was heard simultaneously in all ten cars. As the train moved into the station, he inserted his skate key (it was properly known as a drumstick key, but everyone called it skate key) into the receptacle in the bottom of the panel and turned it to the right. Then he inserted the door key and, as soon as the train stopped, pressed the buttons to open the doors.

He leaned far out of his window to check the passengers getting on and off, then shut the doors, rear section first, then front section. He checked his indication box, which was lit up to show that the doors were all closed and locked. The train started, and he hung out the window for the regulation three car lengths, to make sure that nobody was being dragged. This was where a lot of the old-timers cheated, with their morbid fear of being assaulted.

"Grand Central station, next stop. The next stop is Grand Central."

He stepped out of the cab and took up a position against the storm door. He folded his arms across his chest, and studied the passengers. It was his favorite pastime. He played at trying to figure out, from the passengers' appearance and attitudes, what their lives were like: what kind of work they did, how much money they made, where and how they lived, even what place they were headed for. In some cases it was easy — delivery boys, women who looked like housewives, domestics or secretaries, old retired people. But with others, especially the better class, it posed a real challenge. Was a well-dressed man a teacher, a lawyer, a salesman, a business executive? Actually, except for rush hours, there weren't too many of the better class riding the IRT; it ran a poor third to the BMT and the IND. He couldn't explain why. Maybe it was a matter of routes, of better neighborhoods, but it was hard to prove that. It might be due to the fact that the IRT was the oldest of the three divisions, with fewer routes and less equipment (which was why its training period was only twenty-eight days compared to thirty-two on the other divisions), 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 way a sailor developed sea legs) and focused his attention on the man sitting facing the cab. He was striking for his size — breadth, really, he wasn't all that tall — and his white hair. He was well dressed in a dark raincoat and new hat, and his shoes were highly polished, so he was certainly no messenger, in spite of the large, fat florist's box between his knees. That meant he had bought the flowers for someone and would be delivering them in person. Looking at him, the kind of tough face he had, you wouldn't have thought of him as somebody who bought flowers. But you couldn't tell a book by its cover, which was what made life interesting. He could be anything — a college professor, a poet. ...

The decelerating train dragged under Bud's feet. He set the pleasant puzzle to one side and went into the cab.

"Grand Central station. Change for the express. This is Grand Central. ..."


Over the years, Ryder had developed some theories about fear — two, to be exact. The first was that it had to be handled the way a good infielder played a ground ball; he didn't wait for it to come to him, he went to meet it, he forced the issue. Ryder coped with fear by confronting it. So that, instead of looking elsewhere, he stared directly at the transit cop. The cop became aware of his scrutiny and turned to him, then quickly averted his gaze. After that he kept his eyes to the front, self-consciously rigid. His face was slightly reddened, and Ryder knew that he would be sweating, too.

Ryder's second theory — which the cop, helpfully, was illustrating — was that people in tight situations showed stress because they wanted to. They were appealing for mercy for their harmlessness, as a dog did who rolled on his back for a fiercer or larger dog. They were making a public display of their symptoms, rather than controlling them. He was convinced that, short of pissing your pants, which was involuntary, you only showed fear to the degree that you wanted or allowed yourself to show.

Ryder's theories were offshoots of the very simple philosophy that ruled his life and that he rarely talked about. Not even under friendly pressure. Especially not under pressure, friendly or otherwise. He remembered a conversation with a doctor in the Congo. He had walked bloody-legged to a forward aid station to have a bullet removed from his thigh. The doctor was an Indian, with an elegant, amused air, who plucked a spent rifle round out of his flesh with a flourish of his forceps, a man who was as interested in form as substance, a man with style, which didn't at all explain what he was doing serving in a crazy little African war between two highly disorganized factions of wild-eyed niggers. Except money. Except? It was a good enough reason.


Excerpted from "The Taking of Pelham 123"
by .
Copyright © 2013 John Godey.
Excerpted by permission of RosettaBooks.
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.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Chillingly real."—Houston Chronicle

"A cliff-hanger."—The New Yorker

"Harrowing, terrifying, and so, so good."—Business Week

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