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Tornado Alley, Page 2

William S. Burroughs

  "After all, Doctor, we have known each other for a long time."

  A long time. Doctor Hill was perhaps the only man in Boulder who knew that the man sitting across from him had once been the best shootist in the West. Not the fastest gun, but the surest.

  "Yes, it's cancer. Of course it might be operable . . . have to go in to make sure, but—"

  "You doubt it."

  "If it was my stomach, I'd say no."

  "These surgeons are knife-happy ... worse than Mexicans."

  The doctor knew that Lee Ice was well-read—in fact, a learned man. But it amused him sometimes to talk like an illiterate redneck.

  "Well, how much time would you say? I mean, how much time in which I can get around?"

  A spasm of pain twisted the man's body, and he leaned forward onto his cane.

  The doctor shrugged. "A month, perhaps two ... I'll give you a prescription. You know how to use a hypodermic?"

  The man nodded, remembering the barn loft, the boards curling apart to show the blue sky, and Tom with a gambler's .32 slug in his stomach. That doctor had been an old Chinese, unhurried and nothing caring. He gave Tom an injection of morphine and matter-of-factly took one himself. He squatted down, looking at Tom's lean stomach.

  "Hold, please."

  Quickly he leaned forward with a long, pronged instrument and inserted it into the wound. Tom screamed, and it was all Lee could do to hold him down. The doctor held up the forceps with the bloody lead bullet. The morphine was taking effect. Tom's body relaxed and his face went slack. The doctor explained how to change the dressing, and left a bottle of morphine pills with a syringe and some spare needles. He showed Lee how to use the syringe. "How often?"

  "When need. Hundred dollar, my flee."

  Lee paid him. He knew the Chinese would not betray them. He had shown the doctor a letter of introduction from Chinese in St. Louis; such letters are not given lightly. Tom needed morphine for a week, and Lee took the shots with him. It was boring to sit there all day, and he could not risk leaving the hiding place. Yes, he knew how to use a syringe.

  A month ago when the pain started, he went to Denver to buy morphine or heroin. Hone of the old-timers he used to know were around any more. A Black junky with a sincere, untrustworthy face promised Lee he would score and be right back.

  "I can't take you in to the Man." He spread his hands in a disarming gesture as his hand shot forward, the knife glittering in streetlights. There was a sound like a metallic cough. The Black froze, knife in one hand, a tiny blue hole in the middle of his forehead. Lee Ice holstered his silencered .22 and walked away.

  Then he had remembered Doc Hill in Boulder.

  "You can cash this at the pharmacy on the hill. Generally a quarter-grain is enough. That's one pill. But you will know what you need."

  A half-hour later, Lee pulled down his sleeve and looked out into the garden from his room at the back of the house. He had just injected a half-grain into his upper arm. The pain in his stomach was disappearing in throbs of warm comfort. He opened a drawer and took out a little black book.

  My grimoire. My Book of Shadows. A few

  calls to make, a few scores to settle----

  Nobody ever did him a favor or an injury without being fully repaid.

  That was Sulla's epitaph. It would do for Lee Ice as well.

  Where he was going

  Farm kitchen, blinds drawn, guns propped in corners. Plates and glasses have been shoved aside to make room for road maps.

  Four men lean over the maps. There is a basic sameness in the faces. Kerosene lamps cast a flickering light of death on cheekbones and lips, on the tired, alert eyes.

  "Sure to have roadblocks here, and here..."

  Ishmael pours a generous portion of whisky into a dirty glass.

  "Couldn't we just hole up here?"

  "Uh uh. They don't rumble us movin' out, they will close in for a house-to-house search."

  "Makes sense."

  "Let's try it here."

  And suddenly it occurred to him that he was going to die. not "sooner or later"— he knew that of course, they all did—but tonight. It came in a puff, like wind that makes a candle flicker, and sick, hollow fear hit him like a kick in the stomach. He doubled slightly forward, supporting himself on the back of a chair.

  It's always like this, he tells himself: the fear, and then a rush of courage and the clean sweet feeling of being born. He read that somewhere, in an old western ... but the fear can go on and on until you can't stand it, it's going to break you, and that's when the fear breaks—you hope.

  "Let's go," he croaks.

  He wonders if they are all as scared as he is—his gun seems clumsy and heavy in his hands, alien, malignant—sure they are, but you don't talk about it. Click of hammers and breeches.

  They are in the car now, shutting the door. He is sitting by the car door on the right side. The road is full of holes and water in the holes and deep ruts. Please God we don't get stuck—seeing themselves stumbling around in the woods with the bloodhounds closing in.

  "STOP! Douse the light!"

  Chug chug ... another car coming this way. Closer, the light coming around a corner of the narrow road, between heavy timber.

  Ishmael gets out slow, his feet like blocks of wood, and stands in the middle of the road, his hands up. The old car sputters to a stop. Old gray man behind the wheel. He walks over slow and shows the old man the wallet.


  Ishmael's lips are numb. This is no pawn-shop badge; it's a perfect replica of the real thing, with cards to go with it. Made up by a forger in Toronto. Cost $150. Flashed him out of some tight spots.

  The old man sits there with his face blank.

  "We're looking for some bank robbers. Holed up around here. You live here long?"

  "Forty years."

  "Must know the area."

  He brings out a road map. "Mow we've got roadblocks up here, and here, and here. Is there any other way they could get out?"

  "Yep. Old wagon road cuts in right here. Bit rough, but they could make it. Comes out here on County Road 52. Yep, they could get clean away."

  "If your information checks out, you'll be eligible for a reward of $500." He hands the old man a card. "Just call the office in Tulsa."

  "I'll do that I surely will." The old man drives on.

  The driver studies the map under the dashboard lights: "Make it exactly five and three tenths to the turn-off."

  Old man on the phone: "That's right, posing as a G-man."

  Ishmael remembers old Doc Benway saying, "You face death all the time, and for that time you are immortal."

  A raccoon crosses the road, its eyes bright green in the headlights, not hurrying, slipping along—and it came with a rush, a sudden, evil-smelling emptiness and the raccoon was slipping lightly along the edge of it: "Get away to Mexico ... I've been there ... only way to live ... got five G's in a money belt... go a long way down there

  The fear is back around his chest, like a soft vise squeezing the air out, the gun heavy in his hand, he knows he couldn't lift it. All the strength is running out of him in waves of searing pain.

  They pull around a corner and light jabs into his eyes and his brain explodes in a white flash and he is freeee, throwing the door open, jumping out in the air as the windshield explodes glinting yellow shards and Tom throws a hand in front of his face.

  Very light on his feet, the tommy-gun light in his hands like a dream gun, when a sincere young agent—religious son of a bitch too—leaps to his feet, rifle levelled. He hasn't made his dog meat yeat, as they call it —"Animals!" his fellow agents tell him that's what they are, animals! and don't you forget it—

  "Get down for chrissakes!" bellows the D.S.

  And Ish stitches three .45's across the boy's lean young chest, an inch apart. He has the touch.

  "It's an instrument" Machine Gun Kelly told him. "Play it!"

  He must have dozed off in the car. Another shoot-out dream. He
knows they have been driving all night, home safe now, coming down into a valley. Warm wind and a smell of water.

  "Thomas and Charlie."


  "Mame of this town." Ish remembers Thomas and Charlie. From here you climb ten thousand feet to the pass. Remembers Mexico City and his first grifa cigarette. Went crazy on it, wonderful crazy, wandering down Mifio Perdido and everywhere he sees sugar skulls and fireworks, kids biting into the skulls.

  "Dia de los Muertos," a boy tells him and smiles, showing white teeth and red gums. Very white. Very red. Whiter and redder than life, and he thought, Why not? I done it in the reform school.

  The boy has a gardenia behind his ear. He wears a white spotless cotton shirt and pants to the ankle with sandals. He smells of vanilla—Ish used to drink it in reform school. The boy understands. He knows un lugar. They stop to watch two pinwheels spinning in opposite directions ... he remembers the queasy, floating feeling he got watching it, like being in a fast elevator.

  The boy is smiling now and pointing to the black space between the pinwheels as they sputter out and the blackness spreads wide as all the world and then he knew that was where he was going...

  Ishmael died when they picked up the stretcher.

  The manuscript was prepared on a Mac in Word and typeset in Benguiat Book from a computer disk by Delmas Typesetting of Ann Arbor, Michigan.

  Table of Contents

  Book of Shadows