The Complete Stories (Page 217)
I heard the door-slamming first. Quick and sharp in the silence, first on the right and then on the left Gellhorn’s hands quivered as he punched savagely for increased speed. A beam of light shot out from among a scrub
of trees, blinding us; Another beam plunged at us from behind the guard rails on the other side. At a crossover, four hundred yards ahead, there was sque-e-e-e-e as a car darted across our path.
"Sally went for the rest," I said. "I think you’re surrounded."
"So what? What can they do?"
He hunched over the controls, peering through the windshield.
"And don’t you try anything, old-timer," he muttered.
I couldn’t. I was bone-weary; my left arm was on fire. The motor sounds gathered and grew closer. I could hear the motors missing in odd patterns; suddenly it seemed to me that my cars were speaking to one another.
A medley of horns came from behind. I turned and Gellhom looked quickly into the rear-view mirror. A dozen cars were following in both lanes.
Gellhorn yelled and laughed madly.
I cried, "Stop! Stop the car!"
Because not a quarter of a mile ahead, plainly visible in the light beams of two sedans on the roadside was Sally, her trim body plunked square across the road. Two cars shot into the opposite lane to our left, keeping perfect time with us and preventing Gellhom from turning out.
But he had no intention of turning out. He put his finger on the full-speed-ahead button and kept it there.
He said, "There’ll be no bluffing here. This bus outweighs her five to one, old-timer, and we’ll just push her off the road like a dead kitten."
I knew he could. The bus was on manual and his finger was on the button. I knew he would.
I lowered the window, and stuck my head out. "Sally," I screamed. "Get out of the way. Sally!"
It was drowned out in the agonized squeal of maltreated brakebands. I felt myself thrown forward and heard Gellhorn’s breath puff out of his body.
I said, "What happened?" It was a foolish question. We had stopped. That was what had happened. Sally and the bus were five feet apart. With five times her weight tearing down on her, she had not budged. The guts of her.
Gellhorn yanked at the Manual toggle switch. "It’s got to," he kept muttering. "It’s got to."
I said, "Not the way you hooked up the motor, expert. Any of the circuits could cross over."
He looked at me with a tearing anger and growled deep in his throat. His hair was matted over his forehead. He lifted his fist.
"That’s all the advice out of you there’ll ever be, old-timer."
And I knew the needle gun was about to fire.
I pressed back against the bus door, watching the fist come up, and when the door opened I went over backward and out, hitting the ground with a thud. I heard the door slam closed again.
I got to my knees and looked up in time to see Gellhorn struggle uselessly
with the closing window, then aim his fist-gun quickly through the glass. He never fired. The bus got under way with a tremendous roar, and Gellhorn lurched backward.
Sally wasn’t in the way any longer, and I watched the bus’s rear lights flicker away down the highway.
I was exhausted. I sat down right there, right on the highway, and put my head down in my crossed arms, trying to catch my breath.
I heard a car stop gently at my side. When I looked up, it was Sally. Slowly-lovingly, you might say-her front door opened.
No one had driven Sally for five years-except Gellhorn, of course-and I know how valuable such freedom was to a car. I appreciated the gesture, but I said, "Thanks, Sally, but I’ll take one of the newer cars."
I got up and turned away, but skillfully and neatly as a pirouette, she wheeled before me again. I couldn’t hurt her feelings. I got in. Her front seat had the fine, fresh scent of an automatobile that kept itself spotlessly clean. I lay down across it, thankfully, and with even, silent, and rapid efficiency, my boys and girls brought me home.
Mrs. Hester brought me the copy of the radio transcript the next evening with great excitement.
"It’s Mr. Gellhorn," she said. "The man who came to see you."
"What about him?"
I dreaded her answer.
"They found him dead," she said. "Imagine that. Just lying dead in a ditch." , "It might be a stranger altogether," I mumbled.
"Raymond J. Gellhorn," she said, sharply. "There can’t be two, can there? The description fits, too. Lord, what a way to die! They found tire marks on his arms and body. Imagine! I’m glad it turned out to be a bus; otherwise they might have come poking around here."
"Did it happen near here?" I asked, anxiously.
"No . . . Near Cooksville. But, goodness, read about it yourself if you- What happened to Giuseppe?"
I welcomed the diversion. Giuseppe was waiting patiently for me to complete the repaint job. His windshield had been replaced.
After she left, I snatched up the transcript. There was no doubt about it. The doctor reported he had been running and was in a state of totally spent exhaustion. I wondered for how many miles the bus had played with him before the final lunge. The transcript had no notion of anything like that, of course.
They had located the bus and identified it by the tire tracks. The police had it and were trying to trace its ownership.
There was an editorial in the transcript about it. It had been the first
traffic fatality in the state for that year and the paper warned strenuously against manual driving after night.
There was no mention of Gellhorn’s three thugs and for that, at least, I was grateful. None of our cars had been seduced by the pleasure of the chase into killing.
That was all. I let the paper drop. Gellhorn had been a criminal. His treatment of the bus had been brutal. There was no question in my mind he deserved death. But still I felt a bit queasy over the manner of it.