Black Mask

The Big Run

by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

I saw them on the platform of the railroad station—two uniformed cops, a tall and a short. I watched from the recess of the doorway as a guy came around the corner and into the illuminated area of the cold, misty night only to get grabbed and patted down and made to display his driver’s license. Then they let him step onto the waiting train.

Another guy came along, in work clothes and cap, and he got the same procedure, even though he protested. “Hey! I’m with the railroad here! Platform man in the station.”

“Okay, feller,” one of the cops said. “Go on ahead.”

The platform man frowned at them and straightened himself, and went off to take his position.

The tall cop said to the short one, “This town used to be nice and quiet.”

The other cop said, “It ain’t so noisy at the moment.”

“With all the law they got running around here, how noisy can it get?”

“Toss that cigaret—here comes the captain.”

From within the station came a broad-shouldered guy in plainclothes. He took a look around the platform. He didn’t see me in my shadowed doorway.

“Anything?” the captain asked.

“No, sir. Everybody’s checked out clean so far.”

The captain glanced around again. “Well, he’s here, all right.”

The tall cop asked, “They find the car?”

The captain nodded. “In an alley. Not far from the bank. He must’ve got spooked or he’d have hid it. Half-empty box of .38 shells in the glove compartment. So he’s probably loaded.”

The other cop asked, “We still supposed to shoot on sight?”

“That’s right. He only has one known kill in this country, but he racked up plenty overseas.”

Of course, they gave me medals for those.

The captain was saying, “There are only two other guys in the whole damn country who’re wanted more than him.”

The short cop, suddenly cocky, said, “He won’t make it out of town.”

The captain gave his man a contemptuous look. “Really? He’s smart, this one. Smarter than us, so far.”

The tall cop said, “You don’t really think that, d’you, Captain?”

His laugh lacked humor. “He’s spent the last year slippin’ out of one tight spot after another. What I don’t get is why he hasn’t taken all his money and run. Really run south of the border . . . way south.”

The short cop said, “Then maybe he isn’t so smart.”

“All I know is . . .” The rest of his words had a musing quality. “. . . he’d have made a hell of a cop.”

The captain headed into the station.

I pulled the trenchcoat collars up and my fedora down, then I waited till the two cops were looking elsewhere and stepped out onto the platform, heading toward that waiting train, its lighted windows throwing distorted yellow squares onto the platform.

I had damn near walked right by them, to where I could step up onto the train, when the tall one called out: “Hey you! Buddy!”

I went over to them, in no hurry. They didn’t look stupid. But they didn’t look smart. I got out my wallet and flipped it open and showed them the badge.

“New York,” I said. “Things popping yet?”

“Oh,” the short one said. “City cop . . . No, not a thing.”

I checked my watch. Yawned. “Well . . . you guys hold down the fort. I go off duty when the train pulls out.”

“Tell me something,” the tall cop asked. “Do you big-city boys get expense accounts and everything?”

I gave him half a smirk. “Yeah—three whole bucks a day for meals.”

“Well, you’ll be eating better soon. This’ll be over ’fore you know it. He won’t get away. Bus station’s covered, our little airport too.”

“Roadblocks,” the short cop said, grinning. “They never learn.”

“No,” I said. “They never do, do they? They never get away. They run . . . and run. Till one day the game stops being fun and they don’t feel like running anymore. Because they’re alone. All alone. Dirty and wanted by nobody but the law and no damn good to anyone at all. Imagine it—being no good to anybody. Just something to hunt down.”

The short cop laughed. “Are all you city dicks philosophers?”

I grinned at him. “We’re big thinkers, to a man. You boys stay awake. You never know what a guy like this will pull next.”

I walked toward the train and, as I went, had a look in the station windows. Good to know how many more in blue and/or plainclothes might be waiting.

Then suddenly it happens.

The thing that could never happen.

She’s right there, just a few feet and a window away, and cold chills are crawling across your back. She’s with a big heavyset dick who is talking to the stationmaster behind his cage. You knew her at once, though a dozen years had passed, since before you went off to do Uncle Sugar’s bidding—the girl you left behind who was gone when you got back. There she stands, beyond all logic and reason, and you feel sick with the knowledge that the reunion happened too late. She was still blond and beautiful, with those big sky-blue eyes, but now she’s mink and money and everything you could never be. Never in the world could she let you back into her life . . . all you can do is look.

And want.

Then she saw me. And knew me. Her surprised recognition turned into something sad, and she looked away.

Then just as suddenly you are wanted—because as the big guy escorts Gloria out of the station and onto the platform, you see the glitter of handcuffs that shackle her to him, and then all the self-pity gets wiped away and the hunt is on . . . only this time you become the hunter. . . .

I stepped inside the station and went to the window.

“Friend,” I said to the man in his cage. He was in his fifties with a walrus mustache and wire-rim glasses.

“Yeah?”

“Who’s the blonde?”

“Who are you?”

I showed him the badge.

The stationmaster said, “You’re a cop and you didn’t spot her? What are you here for, anyway?”

“You didn’t look close enough at that badge, friend. I’m from the city. After that wanted murderer—John Murphy. The one they call ‘Irish.’”

“Oh, you’re down here on that manhunt too, eh?” He glanced toward the door. “Well, that’s Gloria Dell herself. Killed her rich husband, she did. Now she’s getting life. Tonight’s her last train ride.”

“Must have been mostly women on that jury.”

“You ain’t wrong, mister.”

As I started to board the train, the tall cop was right there with a hand on my arm. “Hey, how far off duty are you going, anyway?”

“Real far, friend. I got a train detail going back. If our boy pulls a cute one and hops on here, somebody has to be aboard to nail his ass.”

The cop grinned at me. “Then you can lean back and take it easy, chum. That guy Irish won’t make it out of town.”

I gave him a grin back. “You guys don’t miss much, do you?”

Onboard, I approached the conductor and flashed the badge again. “Where’s the officer with the prisoner?”

He was a slender guy, about sixty, in the typical dark blue uniform with brass buttons and a cap. “In the club car.” He pointed. “Right through there. Nobody back there right now but him and his prisoner.”

“Thanks.” I looked around. It was like I’d walked into 1920-something. “How old is this thing, anyway?”

“Ha! Been around longer than me.”

Then the train started up and so did I, heading back to that club car, where I dumped my trench coat and hat on the first seat. She was seated in a tandem club seat next to her companion, a big dick about forty, reading a paper. She was staring straight ahead. Behind them, nearby, was a small bar with nobody on duty. A topcoat that the big round-faced dick didn’t really need was slung over her right wrist and his left one.

The handcuffs would be under there.

Her eyes met mine. No surprise now. Perhaps regret. Sadness, at what we’d missed. But I gave her a little smile and she returned it, just barely, those lovely blue eyes lighting up. I’m yours, she seemed to say. If you can take me.

“Gloria!” I said, all happy surprise.

The dick lowered his paper and glowered over it.

“John,” she said warmly. Hot syrup on a griddlecake.

“Imagine seeing you here,” I said, pulling over a single seat and dropping into it. “What’s it been? Ten years? I almost didn’t know you.”

“I have changed,” she admitted.

“Look, bud,” the dick growled, “find another place to park it.”

I put on a look that was mostly confusion with a dab of irritation. “What do you mean? Look, mister, she and I go way back. . . .”

Gloria gave the dick a quick pleading look and said, “Oh . . . John, this is my Uncle Andy. Uncle Andy, John and I . . . a long, long time ago, Johnny and I were in love.”

The dick made a face. “Look . . .”

She whispered to him. What she said I couldn’t hear, but her lips spoke to me. “He doesn’t know. Please.”

The dick looked at her, then he looked at me, and a sigh started down around his shoes. “Sure, John. Stick around. Catch up a little.”

I leaned toward her a little. “You’ve grown ever more beautiful, honey.”

“That’s because I was just a kid,” she said, smiling just enough, “and you’ve been away so long.”

“I’ve dreamed about you, sugar. So many times. I was in the mud, but your face was in the clouds . . . or on the ceiling, when I was lying in a field hospital.”

She glanced at the dick and he seemed uneasy, almost embarrassed.

I said, “Where are you off to, honey?”

“I’m, just . . . you know. Going away. Visiting family.”

“You can’t run off, not now. Not when I finally bump into you after so long. Could we at least . . . talk a little? In private, maybe.”

She glanced at the dick. But he was looking at me, reading me.

“Korea?” he asked.

“No. The dustup before that. Pacific.” Then I said to her, “Let’s go get a drink. Hey, Uncle Andy—Gloria and me, we got so much to talk about. . . . What do you say, Uncle Andy?” I stood and gestured for her to get up too. “Come on, Gloria.”

She looked at him. “Couldn’t we? I mean, I’m going to be away for . . . so long. . . .”

The dick thought about it. Then he forced a smile and aimed it at me. “Listen, John—why don’t you go pour yourself a couple, and then you two kids can catch up.”

“Thanks, Uncle Andy,” I said, and went to the bar. I fixed us some bourbon and ginger ale.

The dick didn’t know I heard their hushed conversation.

“You play me for a sucker, babe,” he said, and then came the click that I knew was the handcuff key working, “and I’ll shoot you and your pal. Nothing funny better happen.”

“What could happen?”

“Go easy on the slob. Don’t tell him you grew up to be a killer. Let him have his drink and his old flame and his face in the clouds he saw from the mud and the field hospital. Because if he wants to see you again, there’ll be a heavy screen between you two.”

“You have a funny way of showing a girl a little pity.”

“Maybe I just want to see you sweat.”

“Thank you, anyway.”

Then she was beside me. She held out her hands and I drew her close. We never touched the drinks, just leaned against the bar.

“You lost track of me,” she said very softly, “but I keep track of you. They call you ‘Irish.’ They’re looking for you like they were looking for me.”

“And now,” I said, just as softly, “we’re two of a kind.”

“Not really,” she said, as she took my hand and led me to another tandem seat, away from and behind her cop companion. We settled in, and she said, “I’ll tell you what I told them all, and nobody believed. I’ll tell you I’m supposed to be a killer, only it never happened that way. But they said it did, and took the rest of my life away. You were part of that life once, and now, for just a moment, we’re young again. And in love. But before we can pick up where we left off . . . it’s over.”

“You’re wrong.”

“Am I?”

“It’s only just starting. See, I didn’t do what they say I did either. The world’s wrong about both of us, baby. And we’re paying through the nose for it.”

“What can we do, Johnny?”

I grinned at her. “Me, I like a challenge. I like going up against the smart boys. Nobody believes us, but we believe each other. They took us down, one at a time, but now we’re a couple. Fred and Ginger, Bonnie and Clyde. We make a go of it, together. We might die in the process, but it’ll be fun while it lasts.”

Those blue eyes were wider now—excited, filled with love, and belief in me. Somebody had put the two of us together on this old-fashioned train moving through a cold, damp night—call it kismet or God or maybe just sheer coincidence. But the two of us had found each other in the darkness, and the sparks we made gave us a chance.

 

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Copyright © 2018. The Big Run by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins