Authors: James McKimmey
Tags: #suspense, #crime
The Long Ride
At 7:25 that Friday morning Loma City was already oppressed by a wilting, humid early-August heat. Bright midwest sunlight flashed against the automobiles streaming onto Lodge Boulevard, the city’s central six-lane thoroughfare. The boulevard ran from west to east, stopping at the ancient bridge where the downtown area abruptly sheared off at the edge of the broad muddy river that formed Loma City’s eastern limits.
At the opposite end of the boulevard, at the western limits of town, rested an aging motel. It was a thousand yards from the entrance of a city recreation area called Elswith Park, no more than fifty yards from a small shingled roadhouse, painted barn-red and known as the Chicken Cottage.
The motel was called Sleepy Lodge. This fact was announced by a large red and black sign mounted on the roof of the motel’s office. The sign was new and managed to underscore the tawdry, weary, unhealthy look of the fading green cottages placed in a U behind the office cabin and new sign. A blue 1958 Plymouth sedan was parked in front of one of those fading green cottages. The court, which was in the center of the U, was silent, lonely looking; there were a few pieces of chipped, repainted lawn furniture resting dolefully on summer-browned grass. There was only one other car on the U-shaped concrete. It was a ’54 Dodge with a Kansas license plate. Between the Plymouth and the cabin marked 6C was a short dust-coated walk and a worn rubber mat whose nubbed inscription, WELCOME, had been almost worn out of recognition. The fading brown drapes of Cabin 6C had been pulled.
Inside the cabin, standing with his back to the locked door, was a lean but strongly built man. He wore a freshly pressed tan suit. The suit was a cheap wash-and-wear. But because the man’s frame, even after forty-one years of wear, was so well proportioned, the suit hung perfectly. He wore tan oxfords which had been shined to a brilliant luster. His white shirt was carefully pressed; at the collar a plain brown tie was neatly knotted. He owned a flat, cleanly planed face with hard, alert, somewhat stupid-looking blue-gray eyes. His mouth was wide, thin-lipped and gave no expression to the stony look of his face. He had dark brown hair, lightly flecked with gray, clipped short at the temples and combed flat and straight back on top.
He wore soft yellow-tan pigskin gloves. In one hand he held a .30 caliber pistol. He now shifted the pistol so that it was pointing directly at the head of the youth lying on one of the two beds in the room. The youth was dressed in white underwear. His skinny wrists and ankles were bound by new white clothesline. There was a wide strip of flesh-colored adhesive tape across his mouth, a similar strip across his eyes. His long, straight, corn-yellow hair was spread in wild disorder on the pillow under his head. There were a dozen bruises and small cigarette burns scattered over his legs and arms. He lay silent, unmoving.
The man in the tan suit looked down the sights of the pistol at the youth’s head. Then he suddenly moved the gun down and strode erectly to the door of the bathroom at the back of the cottage. He opened the door, as a second youth whirled around, a frightened, apprehensive look going into his brown eyes. This youth was also clad only in underwear. There was a thick decoration of fine black hair on his thin legs and arms, but his head carried a thatch of yellow hair very similar to that of the boy lying on the bed in the main room. There was a bottle of peroxide on the shelf above the bathroom sink.
The man in the tan suit motioned his gun angrily. “You’d better get the lead out, boy, or you’re going to wind up on a slab this morning.”
“Listen, Harry,” the youth with the bleached hair said. “I’m trying to hurry.”
“It’s seven twenty-eight. What are you dreaming about? Get that kid’s clothes on. Move it!”
“All right, Harry,” the youth said, a faint quivering in his voice. “Sure…”
The man snapped the door shut and walked back to the front of the cabin. He looked around the room carefully. The iron he’d used to press his suit against the side of the large Samsonite bag resting beside the bureau was still on top of the small glass-topped writing desk. He touched it. It was cool. He opened the large suitcase and put it inside with his other carefully folded possessions. The second suitcase in the room, which belonged to the boy in the bathroom, lay open, its contents stuffed in carelessly. He examined that haphazard packing, an angry look going into his eyes; then he walked back toward the bathroom. He looked at his watch and rapped the gun sharply against the door.
“Okay, Harry,” the youth inside whined.
In a moment the youth came out dressed in an inexpensive chocolate-colored gabardine suit. The suit had been tailored with shoulders much wider than the current fashions. There were irregular patterns in the padding where it extended beyond the boy’s own shoulders. The boy, in his early twenties, wore a white shirt with a widely spread collar and a large Windsor-knotted red tie. His face was pale. There was a slight tic in his right eyelid. He might have been handsome, but a slight chin and weak eyes and a look of fear had destroyed it. His bleached hair had been oiled and combed into a high pompadour. He looked surprisingly similar to the way the boy on the bed had looked when they’d brought him in the night before, having picked him up going into his rooming house at the north end of town. The boy went straight to his open bag and pulled a half pint of Early Times from under the pile of carelessly thrown clothes.
The older man said, “Put that back.”
“Harry, I’m going nuts!”
“Put it back!” A muscle flickered in the man’s sturdy neck, the first sign of emotion he’d shown that morning. “Let’s go through that first part again. Everything hangs on that, do you understand?”
The boy took a breath. He put the whisky bottle back in his bag, shutting it futilely.
The man in the tan suit walked to the boy on the bed and ripped the adhesive from the boy’s mouth. He put the muzzle of the gun on the boy’s cheek. “Repeat. And keep your voice down. Good morning, Mike. How do I look? Some stupid woman driver ran into us last night. It’s not serious, but my buddy’s car is a mess. Listen, Mike, this is a friend of mine. Mr. Mason wanted to see about hiring as a new teller.”
The boy on the bed did not hesitate. He opened his untaped mouth. In a rather high voice distinguished by a nasal drawl common to the central part of the state he repeated what the man in the tan suit had just said.
The man turned and nodded at the boy in the gabardine suit. In a reasonable facsimile of the voice used by the boy on the bed, he repeated the sentences.
The older man said, “All right.” Then he retaped the mouth of the boy on the bed and said, “Get that bandage and the glasses on. And don’t forget the handkerchief. We’ve got to move.”
With trembling hands, the boy in the gabardine suit took a handkerchief from his pocket, looped and tied it around his neck, then stuffed it beneath the collar of his shirt. From the top drawer of the bureau he removed a prepared bandage and secured it over his left eye. He took a pair of heavy-rimmed dark glasses from the drawer and put them on.
“Harry, this isn’t going to work. I’m telling you—”
The man stared at him. “Get those bags out to that car. Hurry up.”
The boy in the gabardine suit started shaking. His whole body trembled visibly. The man stepped over and struck him smartly across the cheek with an open hand. The boy’s head snapped back. His glasses fell sideways, slipping down on his nose. He looked frightened and pathetically comic because of it. He pushed the glasses back in front of his eyes. The shaking of his body stopped.
“Get out there and start the car,” the older man said.
“All right, Harry,” the boy whispered. “How about that kid? What if he gets loose? What if he—”
The older man turned back to the youth lying on the bed. He put the gun against the boy’s cheek again. “Now, listen. You’re going to lie here just like this until the motel people come in. Do you understand? That’ll be about ten o’clock. You try anything before that, I’ll come back and hunt you down. I’ll find you and really go to work. You’d better be right about everything you told us. That satchel better be filled and ready to go in that bank at eight-five, the way you said, or you’ll wish you were in hell sizzling like a piece of bacon. I’m telling you.”
He pushed the gun brutally against the boy’s cheek.
The boy let out a muffled scream.
The older man turned around, looking at his companion levelly. “He won’t do anything but just what he’s doing—nothing.”
The boy in the gabardine suit nodded shortly, very pale. Then he picked up the two suitcases and walked out of the motel, shutting the door behind him.
The older man stood waiting until he heard the sound of the Plymouth’s engine turning outside. Then he put his gun inside a shoulder holster under his cheap well-pressed jacket. He walked back to the silent, unmoving, bound-and-taped boy lying on the bed. He put his thumbs down directly under the boy’s Adam’s apple…
Harry Wells carefully opened the cabin door and looked out. The court was silent. Drapes were drawn on all the cabin windows. He moved out swiftly and got behind the wheel of the Plymouth, as the younger man slid out of his way. He drove out of the court, using the rear exit. He drove around the block and back, stopping at a red light, where he waited to enter Lodge Boulevard, watching the heavy traffic moving downtown.
Willy Tyler sat with his hands doubled in his lap, his eyes staring straight ahead. “Listen, Harry,” he whispered, “are you sure that kid ain’t going to get free too quick and blow the whistle on us? Are you?”
A flicker of a smile quirked Harry Wells’s wide, cruel mouth. “I’m sure,” he said. “I’m damn sure.”
By a quarter to eight that morning the small three-room apartment downtown was sticky hot. Twenty-four-year-old Allan Garwith stood at the second-floor window of the ancient Kennemore Arms Apartment-Hotel and observed the magnificent view that came with the cheap monthly rates, the three badly furnished rooms and bath and the odor of a half century of transients who had left their marks on what had once been considered one of Loma City’s smartest abodes. The hot morning breeze rippled the empty folded left sleeve of Allan Garwith’s sport shirt as he marveled at the view.
Only their apartment had the privilege, because the building, long nicknamed The Flatiron, was but one apartment in width. Below the apartment shared by Allan Garwith and his bride of twenty days was the custodian’s equipment room. The third and fourth floor apartments did not begin until twenty feet back of the rear wall, allowing the Garwiths their own gritty, soot-covered tar roof to themselves, with only the apartments of the floors behind and the rest of the tall buildings all around looking down on it.
Allan Garwith’s bride had bravely and brightly said, “It’ll be like our own penthouse, darling!” And he’d said, “With as much privacy as you’d get if you sat down in the middle of Lodge and Sixteenth.”
Nevertheless the view looking back from their apartment was exclusive, because the walls and angles of the alley below cut off the pleasure to anyone else looking from one of the surrounding buildings; Allan Garwith had not ceased to comment on this wonder since the day they had moved in.
“Look at that view!” he said now, while Cicely, dark-haired and pretty-eyed but somewhat large-nosed, slipped a dress over her thin figure, hurrying to make her typing job with a downtown insurance company on time. “That view kills me.” Bitterly he stared down, a rangy, well-built young man with loose dark hair that curled damply over his forehead; a dark beard was showing under his temples and around his jaw, and the muscles of his right arm were ridged tautly as he leaned against the sill of the open window.
The view was comprised of a back lot that was walled on either side by a high fence of aged and rotting boards. The lot was as wide as the Kennemore Arms building and was perhaps twenty-five feet long. Beyond that, across the opening, ran the alley that connected 17th and 18th Streets. There the eye was finally stopped by a high, solid red brick wall, behind a court of the Guffrey Building, once a hotel nearly as rich as the early Kennemore Arms, but now a structure that housed a laundry and cleaning establishment. The lot directly in front of Allan Garwith’s angry stare was a museum of rubbish. There were old, rusting pieces of machinery no one could identify, two discarded car fenders of mid-thirties vintage, three stacks of worn tires, a vast collection of bottles, half a dozen thrown-away garbage buckets, the whole array sooty and dusty and rotting from countless seasons of abandon.
Cicely came up behind him, slipping her frail arms around him. “Allan, don’t be bitter. We have each other, don’t we? And so much more too?”
He turned his head, seeing her reflection in an ancient gilt-edged mirror hung above a worn sofa as she held to him.
He did not know why he had married her. He’d known her for almost all of his life, but he did not know, for the life of him, why he’d married her. She was not pretty. He’d always been attracted by the olive-skinned, full-bodied Italian girls with their warmth and natural gregariousness and white-toothed smiles and husky, sensual laughter. But Cicely, maiden-named Anchovelli, had never owned any of those qualities. Her skin was pale, a white-chalk kind of paleness. And she was skinny with almost boy-hips and hard little breasts. She had the white teeth, but her smile was shy, her laughter tinkling like a lightly struck glass rather than being full and throaty with the hoarse Italian sound. Above all she was not sensual. Beyond the fact that Allan Garwith had known since high school that she’d been desperately in love with him, he could not give himself any solid reason that August Monday morning why he’d committed the ultimate foolishness of actually marrying her.
Of course, he’d been shaken up when he’d come back from New Orleans, an arm gone, a robbery rap missing him by a hair, his mother dead. But he could have had her without marrying her. Now he wondered if he were losing his mind. The cold-water tap in the kitchen was dripping again. He could hear it plainly: a liquid popping sound as it left the lip of the tap, over and over, over and over…
“That damn dripping,” he breathed.
“I’ll get it, darling,” Cicely said swiftly.
She hurried to the kitchen and tightened the faucet. The dripping stopped.
“There,” she said, coming back.
He did not thank her. He went over to the sofa and sprawled on it, picking up last evening’s newspaper with his one hand.
“Listen, darling,” Cicely said, recombing her hair in front of the gilt-edged mirror. “We can leave. I wouldn’t mind.”
“Your family would blow two dozen corks.”
“I wouldn’t care if they did. I’m married to you, darling. I’d go anywhere with you. Why couldn’t we go? California—they say it’s very cool and lovely right now. They say San Francisco’s the most beautiful city in the world. Wouldn’t that be nice? It would be like starting out completely fresh!”
“How do we get there—flap our arms and fly?”
She sat down beside him, looking at him with her pretty eyes. “Just listen. When we got married Daddy gave us something. I know you don’t get along with him very well. And that’s why I didn’t tell you right away. But he gave us some money and I put it in the bank.”
He blinked. “How much?”
“You won’t be mad because I took it? He wanted us to have it, Allan.”
Her eyes sparkled. “A hundred dollars.”
He looked at her for a long moment. His profit for that job in Mexico that he’d never gotten to would have been eight thousand dollars, and it would have taken only a few days. Now she was telling him her old man had opened his great big Italian heart and laid a hundred on them. He couldn’t answer her.
“Isn’t that wonderful, darling? You’re not mad about my taking the money, are you?”
He laughed bitterly and reached for her, pulling her over on him roughly, squeezing her left breast tightly.
“I can’t now, darling,” she whispered, her breath coming very quickly. “I’ll be all mussed up. When I get home—just as soon as I get home.”
He let go of her suddenly.
She stood up and had to recomb her hair. “Beast,” she smiled. “But I love it.” She finished combing her hair again and smoothed her dress. “Anyway—remember we’ve got a hundred dollars in the bank.”
“Let’s fly to Paris,” he said thinly.
“Allan, don’t be discouraged. You’ll find something you like one of these days. But you don’t have to worry about it. I like to work. And, if I do say so myself, I’m a very good typist. Aren’t we getting along all right? Now look in the want-ad section of the paper. I’ve got another surprise for you.”
“I don’t think I can stand it.”
“Go on. Page sixty-two in the want-ad section.”
Carelessly he placed the newspaper on the sofa and flipped the pages.
“First column, third item down.”
“‘Wanted,’” he read, “‘to share ride to San Francisco with widowed lady. Call Mrs. Landry. Walnut seven five nine one.’”
“Now. You see? I’ll bet it wouldn’t cost very much that way. The things we couldn’t carry with us, we could ship—there isn’t much, only the wedding gifts. And I’ll bet I could get a good job the day we got there. They pay more there too, I’ve heard. So you think about it, dear husband of mine. All right?”
He shoved the paper aside.
She bent down and kissed his cheek. “Don’t be depressed, darling, because I love you.” Then she was gone.
He sat silently for a moment, drumming his fingers on the newspaper. Then he gathered the paper into his one hand, crumpled it and threw it viciously across the room. Finally he got up and walked to the window, staring down at the litter of the back lot. Two people appeared walking quickly along the alley crossing in front of the lot, east to west.
One was a rather solidly built man in a tan tropical suit whose shoes glistened in the sun as he walked. The other was a younger man in badly fitted gabardine who wore dark glasses and a bandage over one eye. Allan Garwith looked at them disinterestedly.
He turned his eyes back to the lot beneath his window. A large yellow and tan Tom had suddenly appeared on the edge of one of the side fences. It came down into the lot with a smooth, off-handed grace and prowled toward one of the discarded garbage buckets.
“Christ,” Allan Garwith said aloud, the increasing heat of the city beginning to burn his face, “What a view!”