The Boulder on the Hill
Captain Nancy Rigby, WAC, peered out of the window of the little car into the gathering gloom. The hairpin turn was only a hundred s away and the motor had already in to labor as the slope steepened.
"Think we'll make it, Willy?" she asked her husband.
"I don't know," said Bill Rigby. "The road is in worse shape than ever this year. I guess there's no labor to keep it in repair."
She took her arm from the shoulder of his tweed jacket as he shifted into first and pressed down on the accelerator. The Fiat, almost as light as a motorcycle, shot forward. As they hit the steep hairpin turn, the tires dug into the loose gravel road. As he spoke, they reached the apex of the curve and he began to straighten out. Then, in an instant, he saw that a huge boulder blocked the turn.
"We'll make it," said Bill over the and the car shot diagonally across the roar of the motor.
He twisted the wheel sharply to the left to climb onto the shoulder and around the rock. They hit the shoulder and, in one terrible second, he felt it give in the direction of the ravine two hundred feet below.
The car teetered for a moment and then slowly, as Nancy screamed, rolled over. Bill cut the switch and the roof hit the soft earth of the hillside. He held firmly to Nancy and the wheel, locking them both in the seat. He counted two more rolls, felt Nancy fall limp beside him, and then lost consciousness as the wheel splintered in his hands and the shaft rose up and struck him in the chest.
He came to as he was shaken by a jolt, this time a slight one. He opened his eyes and saw Nancy leaning into the car from outside.
"Oh, darling," she said breathlessly, "Are you all right? I tried to pull you from the car and I nearly had you out, but I let you slip back. Does your head hurt?"
Bill shook himself and tapped the top of his skull, where the silver plate was, experimentally.
"Okay," he said cheerfully. "Now that I've proved that I can bounce on it, do you suppose the Army'll reconsider me?"
He grasped the right hand door, pulled himself up the sloping seat, and dropped out of the car. He stared around them.
"How long have I been out?"
"Just a few minutes. I wiggled out from under you and ran up to the road to try to call the sentry we passed at the bottom of the hill, but I guess he didn't hear me."
"Are you all right?" He put a hand on her arm and felt that she was trembling.
They surveyed the scene in silence. The car, resting on its left side, had been stopped by the only tree on the hill. If they had not rolled into it, their smashed bodies would now lie at the bottom of the ravine.
Together, they clambered back to the road. The boulder that had blocked the road was nearly four feet in diameter and it lay just below the collapsed shoulder. Bill examined the area above and below it. The shoulder seemed solid enough. Except where they had broken through, the red clay subsoil was intact and obviously strong enough to support a full-size, no less a midget, car.
"What do you think happened?" asked Nancy.
"I can't figure it at all. There's no reason why just a part of the road should have been undermined and there are pick and shovel marks near where we went through."
"Well," she brushed the mud from her pink dress skirt. "The fact is it was undermined. I imagine someone put the rock there to keep cars away from the edge. They never thought of a midget car going between the edge and the boulder."
It had begun to get darker. The woods which reached down to within a few hundred yards of them were already in shadow.
Bill looked ruefully down at the smashed Fiat.
"I suppose we'd better get going."
They discussed whether or not they should try to find the sentry or one of the AA batteries concealed on the hill and let them know what had happened. Bill settled it somewhat impatiently.
"They'll come to us when they find the wreck. Then you can charm them into letting us walk through the hills to West Point to get a tow car."
They began to climb toward the woods.
"I love you. I'm glad we're not dead."
She reached up and kissed him.
"I love you very much, Captain, even if you are a soldier while I'm … "
She stopped the rest of the sentence with another kiss.
They trailed in silence up the hill and into the thickness of the woods. Nancy looked nervously into the lengthening shadows behind them. Here, where the brightness never really penetrated, there were already dead black patches. Only the tallest treetops held the glow of the setting sun. A chill wind came up from the valley.
Unconsciously, Nancy began to climb faster. Bill watched her, saw her peering into the forest with a pre-occupied air. A smile flicked across his lips.
"Darling, you're in the Army now. You're not supposed to be afraid of the dark."
Nancy slowed down and put her arm through his.
"I am afraid," she said. "If you weren't with me, I'd get panicky and run. I keep feeling there's something here that shouldn't be here."
They looked down into the valley. It was still fairly light there and through the violet haze they could see the Hudson winding past the military academy and through the rich valley clear up to the foothills of the Adirondacks.
"Maybe it's just the war," she went on. "When Colonel Harris had us up here before, it was like escaping into another world. Now it's all spoiled. There are sentries with guns and anti-aircraft batteries to protect the Point and roads that are falling away because there are no men left to take care of them."
Bill put his arm around her.
"You're still upset by the accident. We'll drop in on Sam. I'm sure he hasn't diapged."
Sam's spotlessly white chicken houses, the sty for his prize pig, and a half acre clearing were set somewhat inaccessibly to the right of the road. Sam walked out of the twilight to meet them. He was a spry, deeply-tanned, old man in a faded blue work shirt. He took off his steel-rimmed glasses as he greeted them.
"Mr. and Mrs. Rigby," he said warmly. "I'm glad to see you. I … "
He broke off as he noticed their disheveled clothing.
"What happened?" he asked. "You didn't walk up here, did you? Where's your car?"
"Sam," Bill lit a cigarette. "We haven't got the car because we wrecked it at the big curve."
"Wreck it bad?"
"Turned over into the ravine. Only thing that saved us was that old elm stump."
Sam whistled softly. "Lucky thing I can't get dynamite these days or that wouldn't have been there, either."
Nancy took a draw from Bill's cigarette.
"I guess you forgot we have a little car," she said. "I mean when you put the boulder at the side of the road to keep people away from the bad shoulder."
Sam looked at her in surprise.
"I didn't put any boulder anywhere, Mrs. Rigby. And that shoulder is as sound as a dollar. I built it up myself with red clay the colonel paid plenty for at Croton."
Bill described the condition of the road to him.
"The Army musta done it," said the old man. "Probably ran a half-track over it, caved it in, and then put the rode on the road instead of repairing it. Just like them to do something like that."
They were all silent a moment as the first crickets began to chirp and a searchlight swept the sky above them.
"I can remember," said Sam, "when the colonel and I had this whole little mountain to ourselves. Now a bomber flies over every five minutes, there's some kind of a big military ruckus goin' on in the valley, and there ain't a square inch down there that don't have a gun or a soldier or a tank truck on it. They ain't moved up here yet, but if I wake up some morning and find machine guns in the chicken house, I won't be surprised."
"You see, Willy, it's all changed," Nancy said.
"Well," Sam walked beside them, back toward the road, "you must be all tuckered out. After the War, we're gonna put the old cable railroad in shape and then everybody can leave their car below and just ride up the mountainside."
"How is the machinery — is it rusted much?" asked Bill.
"Pretty bad, I'm alone now and I don't get much chance to fool with it."
"Come on, Willy," Nancy interrupted. "You can talk about the cable car tomorrow. I'm cold and I'm hungry. Borrow Sam's flashlight and we'll climb up to the house and sit in the fireplace."
Back to Top
They said good night and were a dozen steps up the hill when Sam remembered something.
"Mr. Rigby," he called. "I clean forgot to tell you. You ain't all by yourselves. Don't be surprised if you hear shooting and see some people. The colonel's let some friends hunt the deer on the hill. Man named Hargrove is the one I talked to."
"Funny," called Bill, "he didn't say anything about it to me."
"I got a special delivery letter from him yesterday," said Sam. "Said to let Mr. Hargrove do anything he wants." He waved good night. "Won't do much, I expect. Hundred-dollar guns and nary a deer."
Sam turned to walk back to his chickens and they began to climb again.
"That's fine," said Nancy, "I remember you said we'd spend a nice quiet weekend by ourselves."
"I can't understand it," Bill mused. "Odd that Colonel Harris forgot to tell me they'd be here."
They climbed on without speaking, both of them breathing heavily. In the half light every tree and boulder took shape.
Nancy shivered a little.
"Ugh," she said, looking at the trees nearest the road. "They look like tall men with long arms." Her steps dragged. "I'm tired, Willy."
Not too far away there were two sharp cracks.
"Lo," said Bill, "the huntsmen."
Then, for some reason, they both stopped. Idly, they watched the earth spurt twice, unbelievably, a few yards ahead. Then Bill heard the whine of the bullets. For an instant his heart stopped. He grabbed Nancy and together they jumped, half fell, into the shallow ditch beside the road. They lay rigid, breathless, for a full minute. There were no more shots.
"Adrenalin," Nancy gasped irrelevantly, "I'm full of adrenalin."
The pounding of Bill's heart slackened slowly.
"The imbecile," he said between his teeth, "I'm going to take his gun away from him and beat his brains out with it."
He stood up and helped Nancy to her feet.
"If they can't tell the difference between a man and a deer," he went on angrily, "they shouldn't be allowed to have a gun."
He watched Nancy brush the dirt from her uniform. "It's you, you in that brown uniform. They think you're a deer."
"I'm scared," said Nancy. "I don't like being shot at."
"Nobody does." He walked behind her to the side from which the shots had come. "I'll walk here. Even these fools must know that a deer doesn't carry a flashlight."
Mr. Hargrove was a somewhat portly, middle-aged gentleman in a very sharp ski-cloth hunting outfit. He stood at the top of the hill in front of the lodge, .30-30 crooked in his arm, looking a little like an advertisement in a sportsman's magazine.
"This would be Mr. and Mrs. Rigby," he said as they came within speaking distance.
"It would more nearly be a very dead Mr. and Mrs. Rigby," Bill said sharply. He ignored the extended hand. "One of your pals has been shooting at us."
He snatched the rifle from Mr. Hargrove's surprised hands and sniffed the barrel.
"Temper, temper," said Nancy. She had decided to be gracious about it. It would ruin the weekend if they spent it fighting with the colonel's other guests.
The gun flung back into his arms, the hunter made way as Bill strode angrily up the porch steps.
"You'll have to excuse my -husband," Nancy said sweetly. "He's just learned to wear shoes this month and his manners still stink." She smiled.
"Why-er-yes," stumbled Hargrove. "I hope Mr. Rigby isn't too upset." He smiled lamely. "The hazards of the woods, y'know, and all that sort of thing. I hope …"
"He's not upset," interrupted Nancy in her most ladylike tones, "he's just damn' mad."
"Perhaps a drink," said Mr. Hargrove, tentatively.
"Nothing could be more effective where Mr. Rigby is concerned. You will have him eating out of your hand. That is," she give him another smile, "unless you put it in a glass, instead."
"Y-yes," said Mr. Hargrove, casting a timid, searching glance at her, "of course."
When they got inside, Bill was pouring Scotch from a bottle he had found on the stone fireplace.
"Have a drink," he offered.
Mr. Hargrove declined.
"I'm terribly sorry about the shooting," he said.
"Forget it. Sorry I lost my temper. It isn't your fault if one of your party is nearsighted."
Mr. Hargrove sat down on the big log that served as a settee before the fireplace.
"I guess," he began, "the woods aren't very good for walking these days, what with we amateur hunters in the daytime and the bear at night."
"The bear?" asked Nancy.
"Two of them escaped from the Bear Mountain Zoo and are living here. It really isn't safe to walk around unarmed. They must be pretty hungry by this time. Have you any kind of firearm?" he asked. Bill said they had none.
"Well," said Mr. Hargrove, "getting to his feet, "I must get back to my friends. Too bad you had to come up just the weekend we hold our hunt. Any other time you should have had the place to yourselves." He put his hunting cap squarely on his head. "Are you very friendly with the colonel?"
"I work for him," said Bill. "I write pictures for his Army film unit."
"Very generous man. I don't know him very well myself — the arrangements for using the place were mode by the president of the club, the Winding Stream Trail and Hunt Club, y' know."
He opened the screen door and pointed at the bottle. "I'll leave that with you as sort of a payment for such a poor reception. I wouldn't go into the woods, though," he said as he closed the door.
Back to Top
A Stick Of Dynamite In The Potato Bin
The colonel's larder was even more complete than they had been told. In the ice box they found a well-aged steak and fresh vegetables which Sam had picked from the garden. Nancy removed her blouse, tucked in her tie, GI fashion, and worked for an hour in the kitchen.
The dinner was good and they sat for a long time over the deep, rich coffee. Bill leaned back and lit a cigarette.
"You know," he said, "I seem to remember a bar in the basement. Suppose I go down to the bar and you wash the dishes?"
"Suppose I go down to the bar and you wash the dishes?"
"Woman's place is in the dishes."
He climbed down the back steps and into a gaily-decorated playroom. A businesslike bar was built into the corner. In the cupboard he found a bottle of applejack.
He sniffed it and poured a jiggerful. He sniffed it again and took another and another. He felt very rosy when Nancy came down the stairs drying her hands on an apron.
"Look what I found," said Bill, holding up the bottle. "Real New York State apple, homemade."
"Look what I found," answered Nancy, pulling an object from beneath her apron. "A Roman candle." She tossed it in the air with a flourish.
He caught it by jumping a foot in the air, made a neat bow, and then held grimly onto the bar to brace his sagging knees.
"What's the matter?" asked Nancy from the stairs.
"This isn't a Roman candle. It's a stick of dynamite."
"Dynamite!" Nancy sat down on the steps. If she had thrown it a little higher … !
"Where'd you find it?"
"Mixed in with the potatoes in the storeroom back of the kitchen."
"Well,"' he said, "what thrill we would have gotten if we had decided to have baked potatoes tonight! Let's have a look"
The large, chilly storeroom off the back porch was piled high with empty baskets, the kind potatoes and onions are carried in. One basket had some potatoes in it. Bill poked through this gingerly and extracted two more sticks of dynamite. His eyes roamed around the room.
"All those baskets and no potatoes," he intoned.
Nancy peered over the top of the coal bin.
"Look here," she called. There were a lot of potatoes mixed in with the coal. "You know," she continued, "I've heard of roasting potatoes in hot coals but this is the first time I've ever seen it tried with cold ones."
Bill frowned thoughtfully.
"It seems to me," he said slowly, "there are a lot of little discrepancies floating around this place. Sam says there's no dynamite, but the first thing we find is dynamite. The dynamite is kept in the potato baskets, the potatoes are kept in the coal bin. Sam says the road is indestructible — it caves in and drops us down into a ravine. Sam says the colonel has guests and the colonel doesn't tell us. Then to top it off, the guests take pot shots at us in the woods. I have a hunch," he began.
"Look, Willy, when you begin having hunches, it usually means you're tight. Suppose you let me taste what's in the bottle and then maybe we can hunch on an equal basis."
Bill built the fire up to a warm blaze. The heat came out and filled the room. They sat in front of it and finished the quart bottle — that is, it was Bill who finished it.
"I didn't get enough to hunch on," Nancy said.
"Discrepancies," Bill muttered, in a world of his own, "too many discrepancies."
Something on the meadow in the moonlight caught Nancy's eye. She stood up and squinted through the window.
"You'd better duck, Willy, here comes another one."
"Another one, what?"
"Two deer," said Nancy, "On the meadow, munching at Sam's garden."
"Is that bad?"
"Don't you see, Willy? Supposedly this place has been swarming with hunters shooting at deer. Deer always go away and hide in the forest when there's been shooting."
Bill turned the bottle upside down.
"Those deer are no dopes," he said. "Right in front of the guns of those hunters is the safest place. We're the only ones who have to worry about getting shot."
"You know, I just had a wonderful picture of a deer are just one more queer thing, deer driving down to New York with They wouldn't be here if any serious hunting were going on."
She shivered a little.
"I'm scared," she said. "I don't know why, but I'm scared."
Bill placed the empty bottle on the mantelpiece.
"Look, Captain, we're tired, we've had two bad shocks and we're a little tight. Let's go to sleep and maybe in the morning everything will look quite different." They nodded over the fire until it began to die. Then they climbed the stairs and crawled quickly into bed.
Back to Top
Sam's Been Shot
The crowing of Sam's roosters woke Nancy. She sat bolt upright, half-asleep but awake, enough to see that Bill was not in the other bed.
"Willy," she called, "Willy, where are you?"
The door of the room swung slowly open.
"Right here," answered Bill as he walked in carefully, balancing a breakfast tray.
"Why, you sweet thing, fixing breakfast for us. Yesterday must have been a shock for you."
He drank his orange juice.
"I have closed the iron door on yesterday. It's too pleasant a place to think about it."
While they drank their coffee and smoked their cigarettes, the chill came off the morning air and the sun beamed through the window. For a while, they sat and luxuriated in the aroma of the coffee and the warmth of the sun.
Finally they snuffed out their cigarettes. Bill took the dishes downstairs, and Nancy climbed into her clothes.
"I'll wait for you at the top of the hill," he called from the back steps and walked in that direction.
It was a cloudless day. His eyes followed the winding state road down from Newburgh and through the farm land and orchards in the valley below. He squinted and tried to detect the AA guns or the military installation Sam had referred to, but the camouflage was too good, and he could see nothing. He was trying to identify the buildings at West Point from the stone towers protruding just above the rise of the adjoining hill when Sam hove into sight. He wore a bright red cap.
"Morning, Mr. Rigby," he called.
"Morning, Sam. That's quite a hat you've got on."
"Always wear it in the deer season. Sorta helps the hunter tell the difference between me and the deer."
Nancy waved as she walked down the path from the porch.
"We're going for a walk," Bill said as she came alongside.
"Mind if I walk with you?" Sam asked.
Nancy said, "Not at all," and the three went across the stone bridge onto the old wagon road that ran east through the woods. They walked for some time in silence, simply breathing in the country air the way city people do.
Soon they found themselves at the little clearing behind the cable car. The car, the cable drum, and the huge electric motor were enclosed on three sides by walls of red brick. An exit and short wooden steps cut the brick wall at the rear. To break up the ugly, blockhouse appearance of the structure, windows had been set into each of the side walls.
Sam pointed down the rocky side of the hill.
"We had to blow a path for those tracks through a mile of solid granite. The colonel wouldn't rest until it was done and now. look at it. No one's used it since the War." He mounted the stairs.
"Come on in. I'll show you."
"Speaking of blowing," said Nancy, "we found some dynamite in with your potatoes in the storeroom."
Sam stared back at them over his shoulder in astonishment, his hand on the doorknob.
''Dynamite?" he repeated, "potatoes? I don't have …"
He never finished. They scarcely heard the shot. They only watched, frozen with horror, as Sam moaned softly, sank to his knees, and pitched forward off the steps onto the soft earth.
The frame of his steel-rimmed glasses snapped as his head hit the ground. In the small of his back, the faded blue shirt absorbed what little blood there was.
They stood, transfixed, for an instant. Then Bill knelt beside him, gently lifted the old man's face from the earth, and removed his shattered glasses. He wanted to turn and charge into the woods, find the man who had fired the shot, and kill him. But he knew he had to keep his head.
"Get down, Nancy," he tugged at her hand and she knelt beside him. Sam was unconscious and breathing hard. A little blood trickled from his mouth each time he exhaled.
"Stay here, Nancy, "I'm going to phone for help."
Nancy nodded mutely. They were drunk, she thought to herself, so they shot at something that moved and it happened to be Sam.
She wanted to say something to Bill — something about the person who had taken the life of this peaceful old man living out his time on the top of a mountain. But she didn't say anything. She held Sam's head and the tears filled her eyes.
Bill ran as fast as he could through the woods to the house. Maybe the operator could give him the number of the army barracks in the valley, wherever they were, if not, a doctor from town. He dashed up the porch steps and grabbed the phone in the corner near the fireplace. There was not a sound from the instrument.
He began to move the hook up and down impatiently.
"I don't think anyone will answer you," said a voice.
He wheeled around. Mr. Hargrove stood in the doorway.
"They've got to answer," Bill shouted, "Sam's been shot."
"Yes," said Mr. Hargrove, "I know."
Bill stood up, his face reddening with rage. If you knew the phone was broken why didn't you run down the hill for help?"
He stood, the blood pounding through his hands, as the man carefully closed the screen door, and then, with sudden speed, whipped a gun from his hunting jacket.
"There are several good reasons," Hargrove said. His tone, his whole manner changed. "Sit down," he barked. He pulled the hammer back.
Back to Top
A Fascist Philosophy
In the back cable shed Nancy waited, Sam's head in her lap. She dabbed the blood from his lips with her handkerchief.
Why doesn't he come back? she moaned to herself. Oh, why, doesn't he come back?
She strained her eyes toward the path between the thick trees but there was no Bill and no sound except the gasping noise from Sam's throat.
She held his head closer to her breast as the sound became louder. Then the old man sighed quietly and was gone. She stood up, her eyes blinded with tears, and walked back toward the lodge.
She moved slowly, her hands in the pockets of her blouse. It was like something that you see in a dream, happening to somebody else. The trees went by her but it was not she that walked past them. It couldn't be. They weren't here and no one lay dead on the hillside. But Sam was dead and she was here. She shook her head. He had been about to tell them that the dynamite in the potatoes didn't belong to him.
First the car wreck on the road that should have been solid, then the shots the night before, and now this. Bad things came in threes. She was sure now — as she had felt all long but not said because the bright morning sun had made it seem silly — that everything that had happened since yesterday was all of a piece. It meant something beyond coincidence and accident. The hunters, she divined suddenly, were not hunters. The colonel's letter had not been written by the colonel at all. She quickened her steps.
Back at the lodge, Bill sat facing Hargrove, thinking how little resemblance there was between Mr. Hargrove, the plump, pleasant business man of the night before, and the Mr. Hargrove, of the moment. He had long since come to the same conclusions as Nancy. The hunters were a gang, they had forged the letter from the colonel and, whatever they were doing, he and Nancy had inadvertently interfered with their plans.
But why only Sam? Both he and Nancy could have been picked off just as easily. It was deer season and no amount of shooting would attract any attention. Perhaps it had simply been meant as another warning like the shots last night, only this time it had been just a shade too close. He writhed inwardly, thinking of Sam, his life ebbing slowly away in back of the cable shed. And Nancy. …
He had to get out. That tiny .22, like a toy in Hargrove's hand. Surely, he could take Hargrove, even with a couple of those little slugs in him. He looked up.
Hargrove smiled down at him, guessing his thoughts.
"If you're thinking of rushing me," he said, "don't try it. All I have to do is touch this trigger," he tapped it tentatively, ""and I can do that a lot faster than you can cross the room." He smiled. "And don't be misled by the size of my gun. It's loaded with hollow-nosed bullets. They mushroom out on impact and make quite a nasty hole."
Bill's brain whirled on. The dynamite had obviously been hidden in the storeroom and there was probably plenty more of it. But what for? What was there to blow up on the hilltop? Or below for that matter? AA batteries, assuming they could get to them, were not worth all this. He decided to try to draw Hargrove out.
"You'll never get away with it," he said.
Hargrove's gun arm stiffened. "Never get away with what?"
Now, Bill thought. I'm the one who's being pumped.
"Whatever you're trying to get away with," he concluded lamely.
The arm relaxed a bit.
"I'm glad you said that, Rigby. You'd be shot like Sam if you came close enough to it."
He smiled again.
"Of course, you'll be shot anyway, you and your WAC wife but I'm much too sensitive a man to want to do it myself."
He looked at Bill with disgust.
"You see, you might as well rush me — but you're afraid. Even though your death is inevitable, you're afraid to gamble with nothing to gain." He tapped the table with his forefinger. "That quality of wanting everything smooth and certain is what is going to lose the War for your country."
"Please," said Bill, "spare me your philosophy. I wouldn't expect it from Jack the Ripper, and it sounds just as inappropriate coming from a Fascist."
"That American moral self-righteousness of yours amuses me, Mr. Rigby. I'm doing my moral duty for my country just as your uniformed wife is doing yours."
A dull flush crept over Bill's face.
He consciously permitted his face to fall, his whole being to sag. His only chance, he-reasoned, was to pretend to be beaten, paralyzed with fear, in the hope that Hargrove would be put off guard. Then he would rush him. He lit a cigarette, his hands trembling convincingly.
Nancy dashed from the last fringe of wood, across the lawn, to the side of the lodge. Pressing herself against the log walls, she edged cautiously toward a window and took a quick look. It was enough to confirm her worst suspicions.
She had seen the hammer of the .22 drawn back. Bill's dejected frame and Hargrove's insolent bearing were on the periphery of the scene. Her mind's eye zoomed to a close-up of the hammer and she knew only that less than an inch separated Bill from death. There was no time to run down the hill to the valley for help. In any case, if she tried, she would probably be picked off like a rabbit.
She remembered that there was a storage closet upstairs in the hall. She had seen a Haenel air pistol in it — the kind that are made to look like Lugers. Quietly, she ducked past the windows and tiptoed on to the back porch. Slowly, setting her feet down carefully on each step, she climbed the back stairs.
It was a very long chance, but she had to take it. The air gun was in the closet in a cardboard box full of little steel darts with soft bristles of different colors attached to them. She grasped the formidable-looking weapon tightly and crept down the front stairs.
Unfortunately, the stairs faced Hargrove. Her only chance was to cover him and hope Bill would grab his gun while he was still surprised. Hargrove would have to raise his gun nearly a foot to shoot at her. They would have that chance. She was pale, deathly afraid for Bill, as she walked step by step toward the moment. Then it was here and she beard herself saying:
"Put down your gun and … "
She never finished the sentence. In her tenseness, she had squeezed the trigger and Bill watched a little green dart fly lazily down the stairs and stick comically in Hargrove's lapel. He grinned and backed away, his gun still covering Bill.
"Come on down. Captain Rigby," he said.
Nancy walked shamefacedly down the steps, afraid to look Bill in the eye.
"Thank you for coming," Hargrove continued. "My boys are all busy and I've been worried about you." He reached over and took the Haenel away. "You might have walked down the hill quite unmolested, had you chosen, you know."
He smiled at Bill.
Bill found his voice. Danger to Nancy and the almost incredible comedy of the little dart had up to now deprived him of it.
"Darling, Mr. Hargrove is a new development, a metaphysical killer. Mr. Hargrove kills harmless old men with a gun in one hand and a very second rate education in the other."
Hargrove's facial muscles tightened. He turned ever so slightly toward Bill.
Score one for me, thought Bill.
A man came into the room from the back porch. He was a big, florid, platt-deutscher, bundled into a heavy coat sweater.
"Tie them up, Sig," Hargrove ordered. Sig tied them up, to the chairs, to themselves, to each other. Hargrove paid no further attention to them. Sig took out his own gun, a six-inch .45. Hargrove paused at the door.
"Shoot them," he said simply, "after I'm gone."
The Rigbys stared after him.
I should have rushed him, Bill said to himself over and over but he knew it would have been like taking Nancy's life with his own hands. Nancy stared down at her shoes.
If only she had not squeezed that trigger.
Sig's face was expressionless. He cocked his gun and supported his gun arm on the back of his chair.
Bill stared past him, trying desperately not to betray the leap of his heart as, through the window, he could see a figure in army khaki and white MP belt make for the porch.
Nancy could not see out of the window.
She watched Sig raise his gun, and then turned toward Bill.
"Darling," she said wildly, "look at me. Look at me now."
The soldier's foot hit the porch steps. Sig spun around to cover the door. There was no need to say anything. This was it. With all their combined strength, they flung themselves and the chairs to which they were tied at the executioner's feet.
He went down as he fired. The door flew open, he fired again from the floor. The M.P. ducked the flying splinters as the slug crashed past him. Then he stepped nimbly aside and, from the hip, fired his regulation .45 once through the crack in the door.
The impact skidded the gunman's body halfway across the room. The bullet had entered beneath his jaw and come out the top of his head. Sig was very dead.
"Untie us," Bill gasped. "Hurry." He was lying on his back, his own weight and the weight of the chair crushing his hands.
The M.P. turned the chair on its side and then went over and meticulously examined Sig's gun.
"For God's sake," said Bill, "get us out of this."
The soldier patted Bill's pockets. "Take it easy, bud."
"Sergeant," said Nancy, "for Heaven's sake stop being so careful and untie us."
Their rescuer saw the silver bars on Nancy's shoulders.
"I'm glad to be alive," she said, "Thank you for saving our lives."
Back to Top
The Army East Coast Oil Supply
The sergeant refused to hear a word until he had checked Nancy's AGO card and Bill's War Department pass. When he had finished examining the gunman's body and explained that he had come up the hill looking for the owner of the wrecked Fiat, he was ready to listen. Bill told him the events of the past twenty-four hours as-rapidly as he could.
"Now," he concluded, "it's obvious they're after something big on this hill or in the valley. We've got to know what it is you're guarding down there."
"I'm sorry. That's security information. I can't tell you."
"You've got to," Nancy broke in. "We may have to do something quick. They probably heard those shots and thought they were Sig carrying out his orders but one of them may come back here any minute."
"Tell us," insisted Nancy. "That's an order."
"I'm sorry, captain. I have my own orders. They are not to discuss it with anybody under any circumstances." There were footsteps outside. Hargrove walked up the steps to the porch, gun in hand, but he didn't look in.
"Sergeant, hand me that forty-five," Bill whispered.
The soldier handed it over and drew his automatic from its holster.
"Sig," Hargrove called, still from outside, "the blast is due in about ten minutes. We need you at the cable car."
Bill stepped to the open window.
"Are they dead?" asked Hargrove.
"No," said Bill, "but Sig is. This is Rigby speaking, Hargrove. Drop your gun."
He jumped to the next window as Hargrove fired at the one from which he had heard Bill's voice. Bill took careful aim and fired three times. There were a series of thuds as Hargrove rolled down the steps. Bill pocketed the gun and grinned at Nancy.
"I feel a lot better for that," he said. He turned to the soldier. "Sergeant, you heard what he said. Ten minutes. You've got to tell us what's down there."
The sergeant looked from Bill to Nancy and back.
"Okay," he said, "you're entitled to it. That valley is the terminus for the Army east coast oil supply. There are oil tanks buried under that fake farm. There are nearly three months' reserves for the European theater there now."
"Good God," cried Bill. "The dynamite from the storeroom in the cable car, they cut the cable, the car tears down the tracks and is touched off when it hits the valley. Shock waves and fire and good-by to the oil."
He patted the Sig's body for shells for the .45. He found three rounds.
"Sergeant, do you know the way down to the valley through the chicken farm?"
"No, I don't. And I know that I can't make it in ten minutes down the road."
"You want to shoot it out with them?"
"Uh-huh," said the sergeant. "When they say what did you do in the great war, I can tell them about this."
Nancy whistled softly.
"No wonder they tried this hard." Her face worked in agitation. "We've got to stop them, Willy."
Bill's brows were knitted in thought. Now he stiffened to action.
"Nancy, get Hargrove's gun and search his pockets for extra rounds."
Nancy came back with a handful of shells. Bill put a gentle hand on her arm.
"Honey, I've got to ask you to take a long chance."
She looked up at him.
"I'm not your wife now, Willy." She tapped the captain's bars on her shoulder. "I didn't get these to play it safe."
"Sergeant, where's the battery that has an arc of fire over the top of the hill?"
"About two hundred yards past the hairpin turn. Walk on the right side of the road and watch for where the tine tracks stop and that will be it. It's about two city blocks into the woods."
Bill reloaded Sig's .45.
"Get them to shell the car on its way down. If you get there soon enough, fire at the cable house itself. We'll try to keep them busy."
Nancy paled. "You'll be killed, Willy."
"I'm not playing it safe either. We'll try to run like hell when we hear the first shell."
The sergeant held the splintered door impatiently.
"Come on," he said, "we're wasting time."
They ran down the porch steps and separated. Bill turned around once as Nancy started down the slope into the woods. Then he followed the sergeant along the wagon road toward the cable shed.
Nancy stumbled through the brush above Sam's chicken houses. Where the path led off to the road to the valley, she left it and plunged into the woods. Alternately running and falling, she made her way down the side of the hill. Sometimes she jumped from rock to rock over thick bogs of fermented leaves, sometimes she simply ploughed through mud up to her ankles. She tripped over the hidden roots of trees, was scratched as the parted brambles swung back at her.
Once, clambering down a rocky slope, she nearly dropped Hargrove's gun. She hung on to it but lost her balance, and slid down the rough surface of a huge boulder. It bruised her back painfully but she did not stop.
Finally, her uniform dusty and torn, she slid under the wire around the chicken house. Scrambling to her feet, she ran past the open door. Immediately, there was a loud cackling from inside the house. She paused in terror. If any of the hunters had been sent to the slope as sentries, they would surely hear the racket of the chickens and intercept her.
She looked past the chicken house across the big open field that Sam had cut out of the forest. There was no time to go around it. Her only cover from the hunters was the long chicken house and the tree-lined road, itself. It was no good but it was better than an open field.
Bill and the sergeant approached the fork in the road that led off to the cable shed.
"What's your name?" Bill whispered.
"Harrison, Lynn Harrison. I saw yours on your pass. What's your plan?"
"There's not much future in it. Just to draw their fire and get as many as we can."
Harrison laid a warning hand on his arm. They were at the end of the little path. The area in a semi-circle around the cable shed was bare of everything except short grass and weeds. At the edge, some distance from the house, were the first of the boulders that cluttered the slope clear down to the valley, a mile below.
Two guards, still in their hunting outfits, but each with an automatic rifle in place of his .30-30, stood outside the house. A station wagon had been rolled up and from it three men were extracting the last few bundles of dynamite. Each man, in turn, picked up a corded bundle of sticks and mounted the stairs past Sam's body which still lay where he had fallen.
"That the old man they killed?" asked Harrison.
Bill nodded. The sergeant measured the distance with his eyes.
"Okay, Mr. Rigby," he said, "let's start paying them back. Yours is the one on the left, mine's on the right."
They aimed carefully, Bill bracing the six-inch barrel of his .45 on a tree stump.
"As soon as they go down, sarge, let's make a run for the rocks." He pointed toward the edge of the circle to the left of the cable shed.
"Roger." He tripped the hammer. "Any time you say, sir. It's your show."
"Now," said Bill. They fired simultaneously. Like ducks in a shooting gallery, the unsuspecting guards blew backwards against the brick wall.
Bill and the sergeant streaked across the open field. They were nearly at the rocks before two of the gang put down their dynamite, picked up the rifles and began to fire. Unhurt, Bill and the sergeant crouched behind a boulder and listened to a fusillade of shots shatter around them.
Back to Top
The AA Battery
Nancy ran along the wooden walk through the chicken house to the accompaniment of a frightful cackling, fluttering of feathers, and flying chickens. Under her panting breath, she told herself that the birds were making enough noise to be heard by the dead gunmen back in the house, no less than any live ones in the vicinity. She came to the other end, hesitated for a moment, and thrust open the door.
A man stood in front of her, his hand still poised to grasp the doorknob. They stared at each other for an instant. Then the man lifted his rifle to his hip. Nancy brought the little .22 up and squeezed the trigger.
The report boomed against the walls of the chicken house. The chickens screamed even louder and the man fell back, clutching his shoulder. Nancy hurdled over him. He reached up, grabbed her foot, and twisted. She fell forward, rolled over, but held on to her gun. The man clung grimly to her foot. His knees scraped the ground as he tried to rise. She shut her eyes and kicked as hard as she could at his face. But the grasp on her ankle did not weaken and the man's other hand reached out toward his fallen rifle.
She fired again. The hand came away from her foot.
She thought he was dead but she was not sure. She did not want to look at him. She picked up the rifle, threw it as far out of reach as she could, and tore out through the little path to the road. She was in the clear.
She could hear firing at the cable house but she was not yet far enough down the hill to see the clearing. Her watch told her ten of the precious minutes were gone. She would be too late. Her legs pounded down the road, her body struggling for its balance. She cut across the hairpin curve, past the wrecked Fiat. Now, next to an enormous egg-shaped rock, she could see the brush-covered AA emplacements. She plunged through the undergrowth to one of the guns. The crew came to their feet as, gun in hand, she reached them.
"Quick," she panted, "who's in charge?"
"The lieutenant, ma'am," a tall soldier answered. He indicated an officer emerging from a granite-colored tent cleverly concealed against the rock.
The lieutenant stared at her, saw the gun, the scratches on her face, the torn uniform.
"What th — '' he began.
Nancy grabbed at his shoulder, half to interrupt him, half to keep from falling.
"There's no time," she gasped. "You've got to listen and do as I say. My husband and I have been held prisoner up there by a gang of saboteurs posing as hunters. They're after the oil reserve."
The lieutenant gripped her wrists.
"How do you know what's here?"
"Your M.P. told us. He's up there now with my husband, trying to stop them. You can hear the shooting."
The lieutenant looked at her uneasily.
"How do I know that's not just the hunters shooting at deer?" As a second thought he added, "How do I know you're not crazy?"
A burst of fire from an automatic rifle interrupted them.
"Nobody hunts deer with guns like that." Nancy shook her hands free and looked at her watch.
"There's no time," she said. "They've got hundreds of pounds of dynamite in that cable car. They'll cut the car loose halfway down and let it crash into the valley."
The men had gathered around.
"Get the jeeps," called the lieutenant, "and your rifles. We'll drive up there."
Nancy fought her tears.
"No, no," she almost screamed. "There's no time. You've got to explode the dynamite with the ack-ack."
She pointed at the four-gun battery.
From their cover behind the rocks. Bill and the sergeant could see that men were working feverishly, wiring a cap which had been attached to the front coupling of the car. The coupling protruded from the brick walls just enough to show itself and the hands that worked on it. The men, themselves, were hidden by the wall. Two men fired at them from the single window on their side.
"You draw their fire from your side," Bill called. "I think I can get one."
Harrison exposed the top of his helmet, thrusting his revolver around the edge of the boulder, and fired at nothing. Bill sprang up, took careful aim just as the rifles swung back to him and fired. There was a fusillade of shots but they came from only one gun.
Harrison surveyed his creased helmet.
"You got him," he grinned.
"Look!" Bill yelled.
On the safe side of the boulder, away from the fire, they watched the car slowly emerge from its shed. They could hear the grinding of the cable drum as if gathered speed. By the time the entire car had cleared the shed, the sound of the straining drum had become a screech. The car crawled slowly down the slope.
"You were right," Harrison said. "They've got it up to top speed and it will take half an hour at this rate. They'll never risk it. They'll have to cut the cable."
"What a target," Bill said. "If only the AAs would start firing now."
They watched in fascination. The fire from the window stopped, then started again with two guns. Splinters of rock flew all around them.
The sergeant sighed. "If only I had a grenade."
In the valley, the lieutenant and Nancy watched the car emerge from the shed.
"Get me the colonel," he called into the tent and, then, to the crew, "Remove gun from director control. Track with target."
"Please," Nancy pleaded hysterically. "Don't wait. Just fire a wild shell to warn my husband and then blow it up."
She ran behind the gun and the lieutenant followed her.
"There's plenty of time," he said. "At the speed that filing's traveling, it won't be down here for half an hour." His voice was taut.
"I think I believe you. Captain," he said, "but I can't do a thing like this on my own."
"They'll cut it loose," said Nancy. "You'll see, they'll cut it loose."
Her voice was shrill. For one fantastic moment, she looked at the forgotten gun in her hand and wondered if she could hold the lieutenant and the crew off while she fired the A-A gun herself.
The telephone operator stood in the doorway.
"I can't get the colonel, sir."
A blue flame flickered near the car shed. The lieutenant peered through his binoculars.
"What is it?" Nancy screamed. "What is it?"
"Acetylene. They've got an acetylene torch on the cable."
Nancy stared wild-eyed at him. They're cutting the car loose. We've got to hit it before they cut it loose."
The lieutenant looked quickly up at the car, back to Nancy's pleading eyes, and made a decision. He jumped into a gun emplacement. The lateral control turned his crank smoothly as the big gun swung around.
"Don't lead your target. Stay right on it. That's no fighter plane."
"Thank God," whispered Nancy.
Back to Top
The Cable Car Gathered Momentum
The two men behind the rode watched the blue flame eat at the cable. The man who held the torch followed the moving cable to keep the flame on one spot.
"Get him," said Bill. He pulled his trigger and the sergeant fired just as two riflemen walked out of the shed on either side of the torch operator.
The man slumped forward onto the cable and the two guards fired. Harrison leaned heavily against the rock his hands clutching at his neck.
A wildness seized Bill. He stepped from behind the rock and fired twice, standing in full view of the gunmen. One fell on top of the torch operator but managed to grab the torch as he and the body rode the cable grotesquely down the slope.
Bill dropped forward in the grass and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. He was out of shells. The wounded gunman held the blue flame closer as strand after strand of the steel cable sizzled and snapped. The remaining man raised his rifle and took his time squinting through the sight. Bill shut his eyes.
There was a sharp crack and a horrible scream. He opened his eyes to see the snapping cable whip suddenly back, crushing the hands of the rifleman and flinging the bodies of the other two against the wall of the shed with tremendous shattering force.
The car gathered momentum as it sped down the slope.
"On target," said the last of the four gunners.
"Fire!" called the lieutenant.
The roar seemed to Bill to be in him, to be part of him. He felt the breath crush out of him, heard himself retching and screaming with fright. Then, suddenly, like being washed up onto a beach by the surf, there was complete silence about him and he could feel the earth solidly beneath his hands. He got shakily to his feet.
An enormous crater lay halfway down the slope to the valley. There was no trace of the car and only a pile of bricks where the shed had been. Parts of two bodies protruded from the pile.
He found the sergeant behind the rock, unhurt by the blast, bleeding slowly from the neck wound. He had carried him halfway down the hill when he saw the jeeps and Nancy rounding the hairpin turn.
She fell into his arms. He felt very tired and far away.
"Captain," he murmured, "for God's sake, next time you get leave, let's go to the seashore."
~ The End ~
By Thrya Samter Winslow
(56 min read)
The Black Mask | Aug. 1922 | Vol. 5 No. 5
The story about the execution of Stuart Dennison shook Irma as she recalled her old life back in New York. Before she was Irma Martin. When she was Mrs. Stuart Dennison.
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