Authors: James M. Cain
I could feel Aunt Jane's eyes searching my face and knew she must know I was holding something back, but before she could start working me over again, there was the sound of a car outside and then there was my motherâmy real motherâparking behind my truck and getting out of her car. I went out to meet her, then helped her out and kissed her. She kissed me and whispered: “Is she here? Mom?”
She kissed me again and then turned to Aunt Jane, who by then was at the door and who seemed glad to see her. She asked: “Aunt Jane, is Little Myra here?”
“Not that I know of, no.”
“Have you seen her?”
“Not as I recollect.”
We went inside, where Aunt Jane sat us down, and my mother turned to me. “I haven't seen her,” I said.
“I came to warn her.”
“Of what?” asked Aunt Jane.
“Of that girl,” my mother told her. “Of that Jill, who's on her tail.” For a moment, I thought she must know about Jill's finding the money, which I didn't want Aunt Jane told. But then I realized she meant the previous day's conversation, when Jill shot her mouth off so loud. I cut in: “I've just asked Aunt Jane to tell her to skip if she comes.”
“What I came to say,” said my mother.
“And she has what it takes to skip with,” growled Aunt Jane, in a tone not friendly to Mom.
We sat back then and visited, with Aunt Jane bringing more coffee and my mother asking about people, all sorts of Gileses apparently, that I'd never even heard of. But pretty soon she got up, and I got up of course. We both shook hands with Aunt Jane, left our greetings to Borden, and went outside. I kissed my mother and put her in, telling her: “Be better if you let me pull out first.” As to why it would be better, I hadn't quite figured out, but she said “OK” real quick, as the main thing was not to wink or do anything that might tip Aunt Jane we had stuff to tell each other that we didn't mean to tell
So I patted Aunt Jane once more, then got in the truck and drove off. But I drove slow to make sure my mother was back there, tailing me. As I turned into the road, I kept motioning with my hand, my left hand that is, that she should stay there, behind, and not make any effort to pass. I watched in the mirror, and sure enough her hand gave a little shake, and I knew she understood. It gave me a real lift, that she should know what I meant just from one little wigwag.
E DROVE ON, BACK
through Clarksburg, then turning into route 50 and keeping on for some miles, she following right along, till ahead of us was a lookout, one of those parks with a view. I signaled, then pulled out and stopped. She pulled up right beside me, and when I got out we looked at each other and laughed. I think it sent her too, that we'd do things together that way, each one always knowing what the other one meant. I walked to her window and told her:
“Something's happened I couldn't tell you back there.”
“OK, but first: did you tell her, or did anyone, what Little Myra told you? About us, I mean?”
“NoâI couldn't tell just a little bit.”
“Of course she knowsâbut you knowing the ins and out of whyâit could have got pretty complicated.”
“That's why I said nothing about it.”
“Jill found the money.”
“That Shaw had?”
“That's rightâall but two thousand dollars. By accident, last night.”
I told her about the fishing trip, and her face screwed up in pain, and even when it unscrewed, she sat there with her eyes shut. Then: “That makes it certain, doesn't it? About Little Myra? That she did steal that poke. What now?
“There's more.” I told her about Bledsoe and what he had said, and Jill, and what
had said. After a moment she said: “I don't blame her, Dave. It's just a bit crazy, that's what, a real lawyer's idea. So don't blame her too much.”
“Bledsoe was thinking of me.”
“As I am, of course. And Myra, from what you've said, now hates you and hates that girl, with that old time religion of hers that she's full of and that for some reason makes her ornery. She's a real danger, but playing it tricky is worse. Jill has the right instinct, Dave.”
“I'm not so sure I agree.”
“Suppose you did it that way, as this lawyer suggested to you, and the police didn't bite?”
“How do you mean, didn't bite?”
“Didn't fall into your trap? Didn't search the tree?”
“They'd more or less have to, wouldn't they?”
“People never have to do what you want them to do. So they do search the tree, but not until working you over, so they're good and sure and certain you know more than you're telling. Then it's all bound to come out, from the flop of the carp to the lawyer's ideaâhis not very bright idea. Then it could really mean trouble.”
“You're on her side, then?”
“When it's money, hang onto it.”
“How about when it's a neck?”
“I'm not so sure it is.”
“Well, I'm damned sure that it could be my neck, for instance, and hanging, in connection with it, is not a subject I like to hear brought upâor a stretch in prison, either.”
“Dave, there's an angle, a real possibility that's occurred to me since you told me about this, that would make Jill so right it makes me shiver. Haven't you thought of it too?”
“What are you talking about?”
“If you haven't guessed, I certainly won't tell you. But maybe Jill has, and if she has, it makes it all different, the way she's acting about it. And, of course, makes it all different for
“What in the hell are you talking about?”
“Have dinner with me tonight, and by the time dessert is served, I'm pretty sure you'll guess.”
“I have to get back to Jill.”
“If she's still there.”
“If not, I'll have to call her.”
“Will you call me too? I'm at the Two Rivers, that new place down near the armory.”
“I'll keep you posted, of course.”
What she meant, I couldn't imagine, but it turned out she meant plenty and that what she meant was rightâas I found out the next day.
It was nearly 4:00. I got in the truck and drove on. She tailed along for a while, but then at a light I lost her and didn't slow down for her to catch up. It was late afternoon, around 6:00, when I turned into my lane, and my heart gave a great big bump when I saw Jill's rental car still there. I drove around to put the truck in the wagon shed. As I closed the door she came running out of the house, dressed in my pants, one of my flannel shirts, and a corduroy jacket I had. She ran into my arms, kissed me, and whispered: “I'm so glad, so glad. I was afraid you weren't coming, Dave.”
“Why wouldn't I come? You're here and I live here.”
“You wouldn't if arrested.”
“That's an idea, it sure is.”
“Stop sulking and kiss me.”
I kissed her, but couldn't help making a crack: “If you can interrupt kissing that money.”
She pulled back, and slapped me, then kissed me some more. Then: “That's a surprise I have for you, Dave. I have stopped kissing it. I put it back, as that lawyer said.” She motioned at her costume, as though it explained everything, but I didn't connect. I asked: “Back? You mean in the tree?”
“Just like he said.”
“But how could you handle that boat? You
handle it, Jill, rowing upriver in the Muskingum River current!”
“I didn't say I did.”
“The left-handed way you talk, you sound mountain already. Come on, say it: What did you do, fly?”
She seemed delighted at my being so crossed up, kissed me once more, then said: “Let's go inside.” So we went in the kitchen, and there on the table was ham, two pieces, sliced real thick, fresh peas, shelled in a bowl, potatoes, peeled and sliced shoestring, in a bowl of water, and salami, sliced thin and wrapped in wax paper. She said: “There's our dinner, that you're cooking for us. We're having sliced ham, green peasâ”
“I see what we're having,” I said. “Get going on what you did.”
“Let's go in and sit down.”
She took my hand and led me to the sitting room, then sat down with me on the sofa. “Give,” I told her.
I kissed her.
“So,” she went on, “you left.”
“I went over to Flint to warn her, as I told you I meant to do. No soap. No one over there has seen her or knows where she is. My mother showed up too, in the middle of my call on my aunt, with the same idea I had. So we left, and on the road coming back I told her, what little there was to tell. That's all I have to tell. Nowâ?”
“I have a great deal to tell. First, I did what you said, talked to someone I have confidence inâas I thought. I called up Bob York at his motel, and sure enough here he came out. Now we have
rental cars. When he heard what that lawyer said, he simply hit the roofâsaid I'd do no such wacky stuff. But when I reminded him that Mr. Bledsoe was local, that he was a lawyer in touch, he wouldn't even listenâsaid Trans-U.S.&C. needed no hick advice. We were playing it straight with no funny tricks. That's when I cut in to tell him that
weren't playing at all, that
was playing, and that all I wanted of him was to tell me what he thought. So his answer to that was to call Russ Morgan direct. He put 10 dollars under the phone, and I wasn't able to stop him. So Mr. Morgan and I had to talk. I explained it to him, that if the police didn't believe we found that money by accident while trying to catch a carp, we were right under the guns of that woman who could say we killed Shaw on purpose, out on the island, and then hid the money, and so on and so on till I was going up the wall, but at last he saw what I meant and told Bob York to lay off. So Bob got sore and stomped off and left in his car. But that was just the beginning. Next off, Edgren was out, wanting to know where you were, where Mrs. Howell was, and I don't know what-all. I told him you'd gone to find her and would call him when you got back. Incidentally, I think you'd better.”
So we interrupted the conversation while I called the sheriff's office. Edgren wasn't there, but I left word for him that I was back. Then back to Jill. “OK,” she said, “but enduring all that talk, little by little, I knew who it was that I loved andâ”
That called for another interruption, with me holding her close, the both of us mingling breath, but no unbuttoning of any kind. Then she went on: “All of a sudden I knew I was going to do it, put the money backâand right away quick, before anyone else came.”
“That was it. I couldn't handle that boat, but then I thought of a way. I changed to your clothes, these I have on. I got the galoshes out of the car. The woman in the store insisted I take them âon account it can rain in Ohio, and when it does it don't sprinkle, but comes down cats and dogs.' That's what she said, and I put them in the car, in the glove compartment. So I went outside and got them, then put them under one arm, wrapped in a kitchen towel, the money being under the other, and hied me up to the landing.”
“My landing, you mean.”
“Yes, up below the inlet that the tree is sticking out of. So then I sat down, and took off my shoes and stockings, took off your pants and my panties, and then was the cutest thing in Ohio, with a bare bottom Trans-U.S.&C. should put in their ads, it was so pretty. So then I pulled on the galoshes and was ready. I took that money and tramped up to the inlet, then I waded in. Oh, was that water cold. But at least, I could see what I was doingâand went splashing on. By the time I got to the tree the water was up to my bottom, but I dropped the bag in and splashed back. When I got back to the landing I took the galoshes off, dumped the water out, and grabbed up the towelâthe reason I had brought it. I wiped myself off quick, then pulled on your pants, my shoes and stockings, the galoshes, and scooted back, thinking how much I loved you. So, how much do you love me?”
I folded her in and told her but once more without any unbuttoning. I admit, I was quite overcome. But when I suggested we prove our love, she said no, we'd better not. “Someone might come, and that would ruin everything. Some damned newspaperman, if he put that in his paper, could ruin everything for us. Better you make dinner now, so we can eat it and then take our time figuring what we sayâI mean the story we tell Edgren or whoever answers the phone, that'll get them started tomorrow, to go up there, find the money, and then take it from there.”
“OK. Just the same, I love you. Do you love me at all?”
“What do you think?”
O I MADE DINNER
, frying the ham but boiling the potatoes and mashing them so as not to have too much fried stuff, boiling the peas and cutting two pieces of pie. Then we ate and I washed up. We went into the living room. By then it was eight o'clock, and we sat on the sofa, whispering about what we would do to finish up Bledsoe's idea, which was half carried out already. I think that was the happiest time I'd had with her, up until then, whispering there in the dark, as first I'd think of something and she'd think of something also to make it better. Like when I said I'd gone out before going to bed, “to have a look around, and heard this boat rowing up. When it headed in for the tree I yelled, and it turned and headed downriver”âand she suddenly interrupted:
“Dave, that sounds kind of phoney.
goes out to have a look around? It's something you wouldn't do. But if we
went out, not to have any look, but to take a walk by the river and hold hands and watch for shooting starsâ?”
“OK, that's how it was.
“And then when this boat came along, we were up on the landing by then, sitting there side by side,
when it came alongâ”