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Dead End

Ed Lacy

     This page formatted 2007 Blackmask Online.







6—Shep Harris









     Be careful how you live. Not thoughtlessly but thoughtfully. Make the most of your opportunities for the times are evil.



     This is entirely a work of fiction, completely based on imagination. All incidents, characters, names are fictional and not intended to represent any real persons or situations.


     Doc was stretched out on the cot, fooling with his .38 Police Special. It was an old canvas army cot like mine and soiled by I hate to think what. And of course minus sheets or blankets. Not that we needed them in the muggy room: What we needed was a little clean air.

     I watched Doc for a moment. Doc the sharp dresser, Mister Dapper himself. Now he looked seedy. That wasn't like Doc. His suit was wrinkled and tacky, and he had a three-day grayish stubble on his lean face. Even his face was dirty, and his hair seemed ragged. This wasn't like Doc at all. Me, I'm a slob. But at least I was washing every day—using laundry soap for shaving cream. Doc had said he didn't want to use the razor we'd found in the house. But it was a new razor. I don't know; Doc's being so sloppy was beginning to make me uneasy.

     Or perhaps it was the waiting. The room itself. The room was so small and crummy it was starting to spook me. Two cots, one broken chair, cracked walls, one naked light bulb. Of course no windows. And bugs. (If this was such and old and unused hideout, what the devil had the damn bugs been feeding on all this tune?) It all reminded me of a cell. Though the only cells I'd ever seen were the detention cells in the precinct houses—and they were luxury rooms compared to this joint.

     I turned on my cot and picked up the magazine again. I'd found it under the bed. Dated March, 1951. It was full of coffee stains. Must have been good Java, the color held up for all these years. Of course, maybe it wasn't coffee. For two days I'd been trying to read the dumb stories, rereading the same lines over and over, my mind racing and thinking of a million other things—and I mean one million other things, all of them green. My brain seemed to be jumping around in my head. For no reason I thought of my kid days, of my folks, the Army time I did, when I first became a cop. All the thoughts a way of killing time, I guess: racing around the main idea sticking in my mind like a lump—a million bucks. It's hard to realize what a million dollars is. Okay, that's a corny crack, but it's true. It's simple enough to say you'd do this and that if you had the dough—dream stuff—but when you really have a million, it's like trying to explain the sky, Sputnik: It's too big to understand, too far away to believe you really have it in hand.

     When I found myself reading the same silly line, How could I tell my saintly husband what had happened to me, explain about the coming child?, for the third time, I put the magazine down. A couple of fat roaches were walking across the ceiling. How did they keep from falling down? Out of the corners of my eyes I stared at Doc for a second. He looked too much at ease. Nothing ever bothered the old fox. Folding the magazine, I threw it up at the roaches, missing them. At least it made Doc sit up with a start. He asked, “What's the matter, Bucky?”

     “Trying to knock down a few of our friends.” He stretched out again; he said, “They're not bothering us.”

     “You look like a bum. Why don't you wash, shave?”

     “What for?” he asked softly. “Anybody sees me, a shave will be the last thing they will be thinking about.”

     Doc always talked softly. With his slight, slim build, the soft voice, the gray hair, you'd never take Doc for tough. But he could be a cage of apes when he had to. Once we were sent out on a vandalism case; some kids were seen busting the windows of a small church. Doc sat in the squad car while I went out to investigate: Doc was very busy with his paper work—figuring his horses for the next day. The “kids” turned out to be half a dozen teen-agers, all of them over six feet and hopped up on beer. They dropped on me like a swarm of monkeys. Before I could get my fists working I was on the ground, the punks sitting all over me, one of them using my head for a yo-yo. I blacked out for a few seconds. When I opened my eyes again Doc was moving among them very gingerly, his sap in his left hand. He'd bat a kid, clout another with his right fist, kick one in the belly, all the time moving daintily as if afraid to wrinkle his suit. I worked the slobs over myself, and then was examined at the hospital for a possible concussion. We almost got hung on a brutality rap, of all things. Seems they were a basketball team celebrating a win, and their dumb parents sobbed about their “poor boys.” They should have seen them dribbling my noggin around. Anyway, because a church was involved, nothing came of the beef.

     “I feel better, shaving every day.”

     “The Englishman in the tropics?” Doc asked, smiling faintly, still working on his gun. He was always saying things I didn't understand, as if I didn't know which end was up. “I'll shave when we're ready to bust out of this dump, Bucky. Tough turn, the firing pin breaking on me now.”

     I reached out and touched my own gun in its shoulder holster. I was always fondling it. “What's the difference? If we're collared it would be dumb to shoot it out anyway.”

     And while I was talking I suddenly turned—out of habit—and looked at the three bulky, old-fashioned suitcases against one dirty wall. Innocent-looking bags, used and worn: You'd never suspect what they carried. I never let the bags out of sight for long. Even while sleeping I'm always waking up to glance at them fondly. But then, you see, I was kind of an underprivileged kid—I never had the opportunity of looking at a million bucks before.

     Doc said gently, “You're wrong, Bucky. If we're ever caught the smartest and best move will be to shoot it out, and hope to stop a slug. Prison isn't exactly a gay place for cops. I should say, for ex-cops.”

     “You're full of happy thoughts. This damn room reminds me of a cell as it is.”

     Doc grinned, showing all those small, sharp teeth he usually took such good care of. “Son, never try to kid the kidder. You're getting nervous. It's understandable. We're gambling with a million dollars. I imagine the odds are at least two to one we won't carry it off. But the bundle is worth the gamble. Or isn't it?” He looked up from his broken gun, hard eyes on me.

     I wasn't exactly unhappy about his gun breaking. Not that I didn't trust Doc, but he was a many-sided joker, and most of his sides I didn't understand. I said, “Stop selling me. I'm in.” And how silly it was to talk about being “in.” There wasn't any way out—now.

     Doc smiled, turned his attention back to his gun. “Just unwind, Bucky boy. We're in the clear, doing fine.” He pulled a crumpled cigarette out of his pocket, said, “Give me some fire.”

     “What's the matter with your lighter?” I tossed a pack of matches over to him.



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