Copyright Tom Lynch
A man who won't stop. And a pause on the trip.
He could make it in the big city.
He was sure of it. Urban legends accreted around a kernel of fact, after all, right?
So there’d be a tight time at first. He could last through that, he reckoned.
After all, he was a good artist. There was room for another.
His eyes darted about the Greyhound’s interior, looking for someone suitable to sketch, to practise on. He felt energised, ready for anything/ He wanted strongly to practice his craft.
A flash of white out of the corner of his eye caught his attention; something outside the bus.
The Greyhound had been going for an hour since they last passed any road junctions or, well, any sign of civilisation. Yet a little ways ahead of them there was a youngish, tall man walking; white T-shirt, murky brown, bulky duffel bag slung over one shoulder, blue Levis… As the coach drew closer, he noted the blond hair, long, drawn back in a ponytail.
He watched the lad out of sight when the Greyhound had passed him, fixing the black boots, blue jeans, confident stride in his mind; fixing the expression on the youth’s face – a peculiar stubborn thoughtfulness – and the contrast of the vibrant clothes with the dulled yellows and creams of the dusty expanses on either side of the road.
And once he was sure he had it all fixed in his mind, he set pencil to paper and began to draw.
Mona Lisa syndrome, he thought to himself; the figure was done, the surroundings sketched out as best he could without adding colour, all that remained was the face… but he wasn’t sure he had it right in his head, and he didn’t want to make a mistake on it. The soul was in the features, after all…
He glanced out of his window.
And saw the walker again.
Except that it couldn’t be, he told himself. The bus had left him behind almost half an hour ago, and they were definitely travelling faster than anyone could walk. There had been no other traffic, so it wasn’t like he’d been hitch-hiking.
So, he thought, let’s be logical about this. Plenty of tall men in this world. Blue jeans are hardly uncommon. The only thing that made it seem odd was the repetition of a full trifecta – tall, blue jeans, and walking along this road today.
That lasted as a good explanation until the coach passed the walker and he saw his face.
Same guy, same expression.
In his astonishment he failed to fix the face this time.
One foot in front of the other. Repeat. That was the Way; drink up the miles, cover the ground. Just keep walking. Because at the end of the journey there is work to be done. The journey may even be part of the work; but there is work. There is a task.
A task he had chosen to do, had taken upon himself, and now he would not stop until it was finished; until the man looked out at the world with only his left eye.
Because he did not want to kill, not unless he had to, but the right eye of his quarry was the Evil Eye. And in a diner, one thousand one hundred and… he made a brief calculation… probably sixteen… miles ahead, a man who had promised to give him a lead was waiting. Or would be waiting in five hours.
He would be there.
One foot in front of the other.
The road caressed him.
Lil’s Diner was a hundred yards away. Five hours had melted away, but now his paces, always evenly spaced, always covered the same amount of ground. Shifting the duffel bag slightly after the day’s walk, he walked up to the diner, pushed the door open, and looked around.
He nodded faintly, just once, turned, and walked over to a table with a man sitting at it.
“Halliday,” he said. It wasn’t a question; there were others scattered around the interior, but this was his man. He was sure of it.
Halliday inclined his head, slowly, and took off his sunglasses. “Take a seat, lad.”
He stood there for a second, unsure.
“Waitress, fifteen paces,” Halliday said, in an undertone.
He unslung his bag from his shoulder, deposited it on the red seat, and slid in beside it.
“What can I get ya?”
“Do you have Johnny Walker?”
Halliday nodded to himself quietly.
“Then… Then give me a full trucker’s breakfast.”
The waitress quirked an eyebrow. “You wanna eat now?”
“Not particularly,” he said. Then he turned to look at her. “Please. A full trucker’s breakfast.”
Halliday felt something spark in the air between the traveller and the waitress, and noted it carefully. Something he hadn’t heard about the kid’s type. Some knew information. The kid didn’t know it, but as the waitress nodded decisively, noted his order down, and turned away, Halliday already had new currency to play with.
Not that it would stop him taking the kid for as much as possible.
“I see you’ve figured out the symbolism side a’things,” he said, conversationally, as the waitress passed beyond earshot. “I did wonder from your outfit. It’s most of the way there, but…”
“I lost the hat and trench in a fire,” the kid said. “We have business, Mr Halliday. You have information for me. Please tell me.”
Halliday laughed. “I know your kind like to keep on moving,” he said, “but you did just order a meal. For politeness’ sake you’re going to want to eat it.”
“I’m not, Mr Halliday,” he said. “By the time it is cooked, I intend to be gone. The direction in which I will travel, I have yet to be told. So, please, skip the pleasantries. I don’t have time for them; I have to find McLeish.”
Halliday shrugged. “You got the payment, then?”
The kid’s hand disappeared below the table level. It returned, holding a three-inch black blade.
“One British commando blade, circa World War II, melted down and reforged by hand, quenched in the blood of a stillborn baby. It’s not quite it’s old shape, I’m afraid; I’m not much with a forge.”
Halliday’s eyes went wide. “You forged it yourself?”
“I didn’t have time to find a smith who’d be willing to quench it as you wanted,” the kid said.
“I told you to take your time,” Halliday said. “And to call me when you were ready.”
“I’m well aware you had time,” the kid said. “I didn’t.”
“I think I can see why you’re this good at it this early,” Halliday said, smiling. “Well, you’ve got the merchandise, so here it is. McLeish caught a plane to Baltimore two days ago, just before I called you. Now, I know what he went for, and I’ve been watching the news; and if he’s done it then the Sleepers got to the scene before the news crew. He’ll still be there.”
“What did he go for?”
“Why d’you wanna know?”
“It may help me find him,” the kid said. “Plus that way I’ll find out if he’s left soon after he does.”
Halliday shrugged. “I guess the terms of our deal could be seen as including that information,” he said. “So I’ll throw it in. He’s looking to steal the jawbone – and possibly the rest of the skull, I forget – of Edgar Allan Poe.”
Halliday shrugged. “He’s already got Clark Ashton Smith’s. Maybe it’s a whim. Maybe he’s got a use for it. I’m betting the latter. The grave’s located at the Westminster Burying Ground, as an FYI.”
The kid nodded. “Thank you, Mr Halliday. I don’t need to point out that if this is a lie I’ll hunt you down as soon as I’m finished with McLeish, do I?”
“I took it as read. The knife?”
The kid slid it across the table, picked up his duffel bag, and slapped a note on the table. “For the waitress,” he said. “For the food.” Halliday nodded.
“Baltimore by midnight, son?”
And the kid walked out.
Halliday looked at the money for a long moment, pocketed it, picked up the knife and tucked it away in his jacket. He finished his coffee, walked out of the diner, climbed into his Buick, and drove away.
Tom Lynch | profile | Aug 10, 02 | 3:58 pm