Wednesday, February 12, 2014

"left for dead"

by harold p sternhagen

illustrated by roy dismas and konrad kraus

originally appeared in the july-august 1948 issue of "stupefying stories"

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

"i can't see him, jack. it's starting to get dark."

"get more than five feet away from the car, you moron. it's not going to get any lighter with you standing there."

"but i tell you i got him the first time. there's no way he's going to last out there."

ralphie moved away from the packard. he held his .38 high in front of his face but instead of scanning the darkening horizon for phil he kept his eyes on the ground, because he was afraid of snakes.

"find him!," jack shouted. "and don't take all damn day!"

"all day," muttered cassie, from the back seat, "how about all night? it gets dark real quick out here in the desert, that's what i heard."

"she's right," said ollie, sitting behind the wheel and drumming on it with his left hand. "it gets dark all of a sudden. i read that in plenty of books."

"yeah, well if you read plenty of books or ever gone to a movie you'd know if you leave a guy for dead and don't finish him off he always comes back and gets you - even if it takes him twenty years. "

"twenty years?" cassie drawled. " i don't feel like waiting twenty years for something to eat. i'm starving. let's get out of here."

"and i could use a cold beer too, " ollie added.

"you guys," jack muttered, "you're like a bunch of kids." he pushed his two hundred and fifty pounds up off the seat beside ollie and out of the car.

as he did the night came down like a big black blanket. jack could hardly see ralphie, only hear him scuffling on the hard sand.

"come on, jack," said cassie. "let's go. i'm telling you, ralphie got him good. i seen the bullets go right through him."

"you don't understand. you don't understand how these things work."

then they heard something.

the whirring of helicopter blades.

"jeez!" shouted ollie. "it's the mounties - or federales or whatever they are."

jack looked up at the black sky. there was no moon, but he saw the light of the helicopter coming closer.

cassie looked out the window and saw the helicopter too. "that's it, jack. it's time to go."

"all right, all right. ralphie! ralphie! get back here!"

ralphie didn't need to be shouted at more than once. he scrambled back into the back seat beside cassie. ollie got the packard rolling and they headed off - not north toward vegas where the cops would be looking for them but east for new mexico.

jack leaned back in his seat. "we're doomed, i tell you. doomed. phil's going to get us for sure. it's in the stars."

cassie yawned. "relax. he ain't going to get us tonight, and that's all that counts."

"relax. that's easy to say. after everything that happened. easy for you to say. "

that's right, jack. it's easy for them to say, isn't it?

just a couple of hours ago you all thought you were sitting pretty. with a sweet job lined up as easy as picking a pie off mrs murphy's windowsill.

and then it all fell apart as quick as a fifty cent suitcase in a snowstorm.

the state troopers car was parked almost right in front of the bank. it was not supposed to be there.

there was no one sitting in the troopers car. jack looked around. "where are they?"

"probably in the diner over there," said cassie. "having a cup of coffee and some pie. where else would they be?"

"in the bank waiting for us. that's where they could be."

"that doesn't seem likely," said phil. "look - i'll get out, see if they are in the diner, all right?'

"no, no, don't do that!" jack turned his bulk around in his seat. he tried to look through the window of the diner but the glass was too thick and tinted green and covered with signs and lettering.

"are we going to get out or not?" asked ralphie. "we can't just sit here."

"no, we can't," jack agreed. he turned to ollie. "drive around."


"go back past that motel we went by."

ollie eased the car out from the curb and headed back into the desert.

when they were about three miles beyond the drop-inn motel jack told ollie to stop.

they sat there in silence for a minute.

"a beautiful 95 degree day in the middle of nowhere," cassie finally said. "do any of you gentlemen have a cigarette i can bum?"

"go ahead," said jack. "crack wise." he opened the car door and got out.

phil got up out of his seat behind jack. as soon as he was standing up outside the packard jack grabbed him by the throat.

"you were in an awful hurry to get away from us, weren't you, phil? sit down and have a nice cup of joe while the rest of us were getting blasted by your trooper buddies."

phil just laughed. "jack, jack. what are you talking about? your imagination is running wild. these things happen. you know that."

ralphie, who had been sitting in the back seat between phil and cassie, now got out. "come on, jack. you're not thinking. what kind of reward would these farmers have out for us? twenty-five bucks? a wagon load of hay? let's just cool off, smoke a cigarette, go back and see if those cops are gone."

jack tightened his grip on phil's collar and pushed him back against the hood of the car. "no, it's you guys who aren't thinking. we've pulled enough jobs that the feds must be after us."

"that's right," said phil. "enough jobs maybe we can just let this one go by."

"always got an answer, don't you? ralphie, look in his pockets."


"just look in his pockets."

ralphie shrugged. he reached into phil's left hand coat pocket. he took out a matchbook.

the matchbook said "mandy's dine and dance - oklahoma city, oklahoma".

ralphie flipped the matchbook open. there was a phone number written inside it in pencil.

"central 8 - 4563," ralphie read aloud.

"sounds like a federal number to me," said jack.

"what?" phil laughed and shook his head as best he could. "there's a central in every town in america."


"it's the number of a girl in oklahoma."

"you don't say."

"yeah. an indian maiden. with big black eyes. you'd like her."

"that's a likely story, phil. a real likely story."


twenty-two years later.

phil mccoy lay back on a wicker chair beside a swimming pool under a blue nevada sky.

nothing much had gone wrong for phil since he had crawled out of the desert with three of ralphie palladino's five or six lousy shots in him.

if ralphie had just taken his time…

but he hadn't.

everything had gone right for phil since that fateful night.

first there was lola, the dame who saw him staggering down the highway and picked him up and drove him to the doc in flagstaff.

and then there was mack smith, who just happened to be at the doc's place, almost recovered from a slug he had taken himself.

phil and mack had hit it off, and they partnered up and even after mack retired to the little town in the michigan peninsula, he steered phil on to a lot of good pickings.

and then phil got out of the game and made some good investments.

some real good investments. and even better connections.

life had been pretty good.

there was only one thing wrong with it.

one black cloud in an otherwise perfectly blue sky.

jack markey was still out there. and his crew.

jack markey, that fat dumb slob.

jack was tough, he could keep a crew together long enough to do a job, you had to give him that. but he didn't have the brains to order himself a plate of ham and eggs without phil to do it for him.

and where was the gratitude? three slugs in the gut, that was the gratitude…

and the rest of them…

ralphie palladino, a pretty boy with the guts of a marshmallow sandwich.

and cassie. god made dames to double deal guys, but he probably gave up after cassie because he couldn't top her.

and ollie. big dumb schmutz ollie. phil supposed he shouldn't blame ollie any more than he'd blame a dog.

in fact he supposed he should be grateful to all of them, the way things had gone for him ever since.

but he wasn't.

because phil mccoy wasn't that kind of guy.

where had they gone?

cassie was probably in paris or hong kong or someplace, married to some king or the richest man in the world.

but the other three?

they probably changed their names. because they would know phil would come after them.

phil had kept on the lookout. you didn't want to call in too many favors, especially for something that was personal not business, but he had kept his eyes wide open and his ear to the ground.

twenty-two years.

phil got up and stretched. he threw a towel over his shoulders and wandered over to the fence that separated the pool area from the rest of the hotel and casino.

he gazed absently through the wire fence, wondering if it was too early for the first drink of the day.

phil wasn't getting any younger, and he tried to follow his doctor's orders, at least a little bit.

a richly variegated assortment of humans were milling around under the cloudless sky.

and then phil saw him.

an old man with a saggy face and uncombed gray hair shuffling along alone, in a hawaiian shirt a couple of sizes too big for him. his pants were baggy too, like he had been heavy and lost a lot of weight.

it was jack.

jack markey.

he didn't look too good. but he could only be here for one thing.

he looked weak. but still strong enough to pull a trigger.

finally! after twenty-two years.

phil moved away from the fence, not too quickly.

he crossed the pool area and entered the hotel through the rear door.

he got in the elevator and went up to his suite on the top floor.

ray and don, his two flunkeys and bodyguards, were at their post.

ray was standing at the window and had watched him come up from the pool.

don was seated on a sofa doing what he did best - reading a comic book.

"not so much sun today, huh?" said ray, just to say something.

phil crossed to the bar and took a fifth of canadian club out of it. he poured himself a stiff one, no ice, and tossed it down.

if ray and don had any thoughts on this, they kept them to themselves.

"i got a job for you two."

"great," ray answered, with no particular enthusiasm. phil wasn't much for enthusiasm, so ray and don never showed any.

phil filled his glass half full again. he described jack to them.

"oh yeah," said don when he was through. "i think i know the guy. we seen him around."

"he's a guest?" phil asked.

"no, no, he's basically a bum, the kind that just hangs around."

"mickey gives him jobs sometimes," ray added. "emptying the ash trays in the card room, stuff like that."

phil sipped his drink. "i never noticed him before."

ray glanced at don. "well, that's not surprising, phil. there's not a whole lot to notice."

"he been around long?"

"hard to say. he's just another guy, you know. he seems harmless enough."

phil put his drink down on top of the bar. "harmless or not, i want him taken care of. immediately. before the clock strikes midnight."

ray laughed. "phil, come on. i mean, i'm not going to tell you your business, you been around a lot longer than we have - "

"you got that right."

"but disposing of harmless citizens, just like that, like it's tombstone or dodge city, that's not the modern way."

"harmless? " phil gave them a brief account of his history with jack. "so i want him taken care of."

"of course," don put in. "if that's what you want, phil. ray's just trying to be helpful, look at it from every angle. we'll do what you say."

"since that's what i pay you for, i'm glad to hear that."

"but are you sure it's the guy?" don asked. "that shot you thirty years ago? maybe you should take a closer look."

"it was twenty-two years ago. and i took a close look. so just do it."

"okay, okay."

phil crossed the room with the glass and the bottle of canadian club in his hands. he went into his bedroom and closed its door behind him.

ray and don looked at each other. don put down his comic book - modern comics, featuring blackhawk - and got up from the sofa.

without a word they got up and went out into the hallway outside the suite and waited for the elevator.

they didn't speak until they had picked up drinks at the bar and found a table in a corner of the lounge.

"phil's been around for a long time," said ray.

"yes, he has," don agreed.

"nobody stays sharp forever."

"sad but true."

ray laughed. "can you believe that story he told us?"

don just shrugged.

"maybe we should give larry a call. take him up on his previous generous proposal."

don took a sip of his screwdriver. "more of a suggestion than a proposal."

"same thing. you want me to call him?"

"sure. if you want to."

"i'll call him." ray got up and headed for the row of phones by the slot machines.


twenty-two years!

jack had waited. and searched. and planned. for a long time.

and walked a lot of long dark roads.

and heard a lot of lonesome whistles blow.

in flophouses. in hobo jungles. in jails.

now his wait was almost over.

tonight was the night.

he finally had phil mccoy in his sights.

phil mccoy who had become such a big shot.

who had looked for him, put out the word on him.

but had never been able to find him.

though there had been some close calls.

tonight, after his shift as a bus boy in the card room, emptying ash trays and carrying away empty glasses, jack's long journey would end.

he had his gun, and the special silencer he had saved his nickels and dimes for years to buy.

this was it.

after twenty-two years, he would finally get a good night's sleep.


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