“Militia. My library card.”

Jack laughed. “Good.”

He got up and went to the wardrobe, opened it and took out a hatbox.

“Artillery,” he said.

He put the box on the bed and lifted out two revolvers and a case of shells. Now I saw why the ridiculous lock was on the door. Jack handed over a Webley Mark IV. It’d been awhile since I’d handled one. I hefted it, broke it open, spun the cylinder, and looked down the barrel.

“Where’s the head?”

“Down the hall,” Jack said. “I’m going to change.”

He took a dark coat out of the wardrobe. With composure, I retreated and groped along an unlit passageway to the W.C. with knees no worse from quaking. Firearms. Revolvers are tools built for use. Pick one up and carry it around and you will pull its trigger, sure as shooting.

Carefully I micturated in the filthy lavatory without touching the surroundings. My fastidious medical training had augmented and grounded an abhorrence of uncleanliness; my sterile urine was probably the cleanest substance in the room.

I returned to find Jack knotting a new tie. While he whistled I loaded the Webley and sat down. We drank more ale, smoked tobacco, and let the world burn itself out. My mind sharpened to a whetted blade with clarity and insight. Previously unrecognized associations aligned themselves into an organized pattern. The potential danger ahead was evaluated and rationalized. I felt excitement at action after such sloth. The empty summer gone, autumn quickening. I wasn’t going to leave on a train, not yet. This city, this city which had harried me from den to den, scoured by hounds, this city would see me turn and rue its hunt. I’d show my teeth. Money would lend an ease, command. Laura. I will have her, or no one will. I picked up the weapon while Jack hummed that tune and loaded his. What was the song? He checked his wristwatch and snapped his fingers.


WE PREPARED OURSELVES. Another sniff of the powder. My gun in my belt for now, under my suitcoat. Out and downstairs, back on the pavement, and over to the canal.

“If we’re separated,” Jack said, “try the bar at the Dominion quarter past nine every night for a week. I’ll either be there or I’ll leave you a message. I’m Pete, you’re Sam. No soap after a week, well...”

“Nothing to fear. This is good. Thanks, Jack.”

I meant it. Once again he’d dropped out of the sky and got me moving.

“You bet. Here they come.”

Jack shone an electric torch on and off thrice. Headlamps coming towards us along the slough dipped the same number of times. Our convoy. The lead truck slowed. Jack motioned me to the tail. We shook hands.

“See you at the Hotel Republic.” he said.

“Live free or die,” I went.

I climbed into the cab of the third truck. The driver was a big brute, unwashed and unshaven.


He grunted.

A freight pulled by as we set off. One of the boxcars had Santa Fe–Pacific stencilled on its side, a long way from home. I cracked my knuckles, a bad habit ill-befitting any prospective surgeon. Number it amongst the traits ensuring my unsuitability for a reputable profession. Our truck pulled ahead of the engine and we parallelled it on Commissioners. The driver shifted up, accelerated, shifted again, braked a little. The truck swayed. We turned away from the westbound train.

Later, crossing the river, I saw the village of St. Lambert lit up on the left. After it, heading south, darkness grew, with fewer lights, then none. One or two hardy motorists shared the road at this quiet hour. The convoy had scattered. Half an hour or so passed, then more. I saw an empty police ’car at a crossroads in the middle of nowhere with its headlamps on and doors open. I exchanged looks with the driver and unbuttoned my coat to reveal the gun handle.

Too late I realized I had nothing to smoke and gritted my teeth. The drug had me fast and slow. We drove. Eventually I crossed my arms and closed my eyes. Over the motor I imagined hearing bottles chiming together back and forth in the payload. Glasses clinked. There was the pop of a cork from a bottle of Champagne. A band played “The Japanese Sandman.” Laura toyed with white pearls around her milk-white throat. She was ginger-haired like Jack, but green-eyed to his blue. Redheads have a natural antipathy; you never see them together at the altar. Isn’t that so? Laura’s gloved hands, her black gown, her emerald eyes in candlelight, auburn hair piled up in rings. She laughed at some stupid witticism of mine. The dancers turned on the parquet slowly, underwater. A drumbeat. The truck hit a pothole and jolted me out of my reverie. Some time had passed; it was difficult to reckon how much and no sign of the moon.

We were driving along a dirt side road and spotted our two trucks waiting ahead. They started up and turned right onto a rutted track leading into the woods. The driver pulled out a cigaret packet and passed one to me in either the Christian spirit or one of criminal solidarity. The brand was Taxi: “Smoked in Drawing Rooms and Clubs,” yes, and in bootleggers’ trucks. The tires rolled along the grooves in the dry ground, no lamps shining. Our train moved along in the dark by feel. My eyes were staring wide but all I saw were orange coals reflected in the windscreen. I opened my window and chucked the stub out. There was the smell of slack water, pine, night. We inched along in low gear. My hand moved to the revolver handle and I gripped it, palm slick with sweat.

The driver muttered: “Contresaintciboire.” Three blind mice. See how we run. A firecracker went off, a sudden stark light. We slammed into the truck ahead of us. More firecrackers. No. Shots. Headlamps from the woods ahead, beside, behind us. Ambush. Shouts. My hand pulled at the door release. The gun stuck in my belt. The driver tried to reverse. A crack. The windscreen shattered. Another retort, then it was Chinese New Year. My door opened and I fell out of the cab as the driver’s head exploded red in the alien light. I landed and rolled into a ditch, frantically pulling the weapon free. More shouting in English and French. I crawled away into bracken through dead leaves and a dry gulch, away, away from the light and the noise. Light swung my way and there was a loud percussion as a tree trunk splintered near my head. Stray bullet, or was I in someone’s sights? Move, move. Get up. Run. With leaden legs I lurched to my feet, crouching and shambling away, my collar sprung, now hatless. Boughs slashed at my face. Faster, faster. Deeper into the woods, into the night. I stumbled over fallen trunks, blood roaring in my ears. My knees collapsed as I blundered down a bank into a creek bed, then back up and deeper into the bush. Was it the cops? All sense of direction lost. It’s dangerous to carry on. You’ll trip a cordon, stumble into a trap. Go to ground, find some deep hole and crawl into it. Instinct of the hunted animal. Hide, rest, wait for dawn. I reached out to a tree. From pillar to post I snuck along until I found a windfall. I crawled under it, my hand a claw gripping the Webley, lungs gulping for air, my heart hammering, body now wracked and shivering in shock, ears pricked for any footfall. Dig deeper, deeper, wait for whatever comes and shoot it down. This is it. You’re in it now.


NO NEED FOR nightmares: the night itself was enough. After a fitful, frightened sleep I woke to dull grey light. Wind in the trees, the shifting of leaves. A raven croaking an unreadable augury. Blackbirds shackled with silver manacles in the Tower of London kept God’s anointed on the throne of Britain. My fatigue had overcome the cocaine and terror to leave me still and dead underground. The gun was fused to my hand by pinesap, my arms and legs cold and cramped.

I crawled out of my hole. The wind had obscured my path through the forest with anonymous leaves. The sky overhead was a ceiling of cloud the colour of oyster shell. And here I’d slurped them down only yesterday at the Derby. Now where was I? The light was too diffuse to make out east and the rising sun. Must orient myself. Be careful. Don’t walk into a tracking party. They could’ve found my hat and counted heads. Or had Jack fought them back? Jesus, Jack. He was in the first truck when the firing started. Who was it? American Treasury agents or local law? Customs, Mounties, provincial police? No dogs, as yet. My fear was a living thing and got me ticking. If it wasn’t police it might be much worse. A rival crew. They’d leave my body for the wolves. Bad, very bad.

Jack had said the crossing into New York State was near to Indian land. I might’ve already slipped over the border in my flight. Who knows, I could even run into a Vermont sheriff in these woods. There were also the natives

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