Read The Transgressors Online

Authors: Jim Thompson

Tags: #Mystery

The Transgressors

BOOK: The Transgressors
2.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

The Transgressors

Jim Thompson

Little, Brown and Company

New York   Boston   London


Begin Reading

Table of Contents

About the Author

Preview of


All rights reserved. In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher constitute unlawful piracy and theft of the author’s intellectual property. If you would like to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), prior written permission must be obtained by contacting the publisher at permission[email protected]. Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.

nder the far-west Texas sky, a pale, wind-swept blue in the late August afternoon, the big convertible swayed and swung lazily, jouncing its two occupants—a prostitute and a deputy sheriff—into brief contact; it seemed to crawl toward the horizon like a large black bug, caught inside an up-ended, transparent bowl.

The wind was almost constant, something that one was aware of only when it ceased. The sparse stalks of burned-dry Johnson grass lay almost prone from its pressure, and the giant cacti, the tree-tall Spanish bayonet, leaned warily away from it. It seemed bent on driving everything before it, unwilling to rest until the desolation was absolute.

For the past two-odd hours, ever since they had left the town of Big Sands, the woman had turned in her seat occasionally to look at the man; hopefully at first, then with a kind of frustrated bafflement, and finally with snapping-eyed, tight-lipped fury. Now, at last, she swung abruptly around to stare at him, hiking her skirt high on her thighs, her breasts swelling angrily against her blouse.

The man appeared not to notice. He was, in fact, squinting off to his left, trying to locate the spirelike speck amidst a cluster of lesser specks which, ten miles nearer, would prove to be the derrick and accouterments of a wildcat drilling well.

“Tom…” the woman said. “Tom.”

The man saw what he was looking for at last. The woman didn’t. She was a relative newcomer to the area, still a stranger after almost three years. And strangers here had died of thirst and hunger, of heat or cold, because they accepted the apparent emptiness as real; because, unable to survive themselves, they could not see how others might. They had done it four hundred years ago. They would be doing it four thousand years hence. For the land was unchanging—did not have the necessary elements for change. Men changed it briefly, and then it went back to what it had been.

“Tom! Tom Lord!”

“Yeah, Joyce?”

Deputy Sheriff Tom Lord turned away from the landscape; smiled pleasurably as he noted the hiked-up skirt and the area beneath it. “Oh, gonna take my picture, huh? Want me to say cheese?”

“Stop it! You know what I want!”

“Mmm, let’s see,” Lord mused—then brightened exaggeratedly. “Why, sure. Ought to’ve known right away. Well, you just hop in the back seat and get yourself fixed, an’—”

He broke off abruptly as Joyce Lakewood swung at him. She swung again, began to pound, claw, and slap at him. His hat, a sixty-dollar ranch-style Stetson fell into the rear of the car. His neat, black bow tie was knocked askew. He ducked and dodged as he drove, sheltering himself with one arm, laughing uproariously and so contagiously that the woman at last joined in. But unwillingly, and not without a trace of bitterness.

“Ah, Tom,” she said. “What can I do with you, anyway?”

“Why, now, you’ve been doing right fine so far,” Lord said. “I ain’t got a complaint in the world, and that’s a fact.”

“But what about me? Why did you bring me out here today?”

“You’ve been saying we needed to have a good long talk,” the deputy pointed out. “Can’t remember how many times you’ve said it. Thought we ought to get off some place where we wouldn’t be disturbed.”

“We wouldn’t have been disturbed at my place.”

“We-el, maybe not,” Lord said. “But I don’t reckon we’d have done much talkin’. Seems like we always think of somethin’ more interesting to do.”

He reached down behind the seat, winking at her slyly as he recovered his hat. Joyce reddened, feeling a mixture of anger and shame.

She was used to vulgarity, to lewdness, to downright filthiness. She had become quite used to it by the time she was fourteen, and she was thirty now. Yet quite often with this man—more and more often, of late—she had found herself blushing at his smallest indelicacy; had been offended and angered and hurt by language which, coming from another man—from any of the hundreds of men before him—would have seemed almost prim.

And she didn’t know how to object to it, how to explain why, being what she was, she did object to it. Her only recourse, as now, was to pass over the issue and strike back at a tangent. It would give her no satisfaction, only rebound with more hurt, but still she did it.

“Why do you use that cornball talk?” she snapped. “You’re no rube! You’re probably the best educated man in the county, practically a medical-school graduate, but you sound like some character in a third-rate movie!”

Lord’s delicately arched eyebrows went up. “You mean,” he said, “you don’t think it’s fittin’?”

“Of course it’s not! A man who’s had your advantages…”

“Well, now, looky,” Lord cut in, drawling. “Turn it around t’other way, and the same boot fits your foot.”

“What—how do you mean?”

“I mean, I’m a heap and I talk like nothin’. You’re nothing, and you talk like a heap. Why, y’know,” he smiled at her, smiled with his lips and his even white teeth, dark eyes cold and humorless, “as long as you keep a rein on yourself, you could fool almost anyone. Even me, now, I have to keep remindin’ myself that you ain’t a real honest-to-Gawd lady.”

Invariably, when she had tried to pry behind his surface, he had been quick to repel her, but never with such cruelty. She almost gasped with the pain of it, was far too hurt and humbled to be angry.

“D-do you have to”—she averted her head momentarily, blinking back the sudden tears—“do you have to keep reminding yourself, Tom? Couldn’t you just—”

“Well, I guess I don’t have to do that,” Lord said agreeably. “Not with you always remindin’ me yourself.”

“I…I love you so much, Tom I—I just—”

“An’ I think quite a bit of you, too, Joyce. Must’ve told you so a thousand times.”

“But you won’t marry me.”

“No, ma’am, I sure won’t.”

“I’m not good enough to marry, but I’m good enough to sleep with. You don’t mind sleeping with me, do you?”

Lord said that he didn’t mind a-tall. He couldn’t think of anything he minded less, and that was a fact. Then, as her face crumbled abruptly, and she burst into helpless, childlike sobs, he dropped his mask for a moment.

“You wouldn’t be happy married to me, Joyce. I’m old family. I was reared in a certain way, in a tradition. I couldn’t forget it—God knows I’ve tried to in the past—and I’d never let you forget it.”

Joyce raised her head hopefully, all her hurt expunged by this unprecedented gentleness. “Maybe you didn’t try hard enough, Tom! You have no real reason to forget, so—”

“Would you say my mother was a real enough reason?”

“What? I don’t understand.”

“When I was seven years old,” Lord said, “she left my father. Skipped town with another man. Neither Dad nor I ever spoke of her again. As far as we and our friends were concerned, she ceased to exist.”

Joyce looked at him, frowning, an unconscious shiver running down her spine. “But—but that’s terrible! Didn’t you ever hear from her?”

“We received a number of letters from her.” Lord took a thin, black cigar from his pocket and ignited the tip. “We destroyed them, unopened.”

“But”—the girl fluttered her hands—“she might have been sick, dying! Your own mother dying, for all you know, and…and…how could you do such a terrible thing?”

“It wasn’t easy,” Lord said. And then dropping back into his drawl, again sliding behind his mask, “No, sir, it sure wasn’t easy, and that’s a fact.”

He stepped down hard on the accelerator. The big convertible leaped forward, throwing Joyce back against the seat, holding her there with its gathering speed. Faster and faster they sped down the rutted road, bouncing and careening and weaving. She looked at Lord anxiously, started to remonstrate. Then, hesitating, fearful of one of his hide-peeling retorts, she lost the opportunity.

The left front wheel struck a dust-filled chuckhole. The car twisted and jerked, bounced high into the air, and came down with a riflelike
It whipped sideways, appeared, for a moment, on the verge of flipping over, and then Lord brought it to a stop.

Completely unruffled, he turned and grinned at the white-faced girl.

“Okay, honey? Didn’t shake you up none, did I?”

Joyce looked at him wordlessly. She sucked in her breath, sought for some suitable remark—something so cutting and withering that for a time, at least, he would be knocked out of his cocksureness and feel some of the fear and uncertainty that were her own constant companions.

Miraculously, she found exactly the right statement. She began it deliberately, so that none of her words would be lost on him.

“I want to tell you something Thomas DeMontez Lord. I’m well aware that you’ve got a pedigree as long as my leg, and that I don’t amount to anything. But—”

“But it don’t matter a-tall,” Lord supplied fondly. “To me you’ll always be the girl o’ my dreams, an’ the sweetest flower that grows.”

Beaming idiotically, he pooched out his lips and attempted to kiss her. She yanked away from him furiously.

“You shut up!
shu-tt up-pp!
I’ve got something to say to you, and by God you’re going to listen. Do you hear me? You’re going to listen!”

Lord nodded agreeably. He said he wanted very much to listen. He knew that anything a brainy little lady like her had to say would be plumb important, as well as pleasin’ to the ear, and he didn’t want to miss a word of it. So would she mind speaking a little louder?

“I think you stink, Tom Lord! I think you’re mean and hateful and stupid, and—louder?” said Joyce.

“Uh-huh. So I can hear you while I’m checkin’ the car. Looks like we might be in for a speck of trouble.”

He opened the door and got out. He waited at the car side for a moment, looking down at her expectantly.

“Well? Wasn’t you goin’ to say somethin’?” Then, helpfully, as she merely stared at him in weary silence, “Maybe you could write it down for me, huh? Print it in real big letters, an’ I can cipher it out later.”

“Aah, go on,” she said. “Just go the hell on.”

He grinned, nodded, and walked around to the front of the car. Lips pursed mournfully, he stared down at its crazily sagging left side. Then he hunkered down on the heels of his handmade boots, peered into the orderly chaos of axle, shock absorber, and spring.

He went prone on his stomach, the better to pursue his examination. After a time, he straightened again, brushing the red Permian dust from his hands, slapping it from his six-dollar levis and his tailored, twenty-five-dollar shirt.

He wore no gun—a strange omission for a peace officer in this country. Never, he’d once told Joyce, had he encountered any man or situation that called for a gun.
And he really feels that way,
she thought.
That’s really all he’s got, all he is. Just a big pile of self-confidence in an almost teensy package. If I could make myself feel the same way…

She studied him hopefully, yearningly; against the limitless background of sky and wasteland it was easy to confirm her analysis. Here in this God-forsaken place, the westerly end of nowhere, Tom Lord looked almost insignificant, almost contemptible.

handsome, with his coal-black hair and eyes, his fine-chiseled features. But she’d known plenty of handsomer guys, and, conceding his good looks, what was there left? He wasn’t a big man; rather on the medium side. Neither was he very powerful of build. He could move very quickly, she knew (although he seldom found occasion to do so), but he was more wiry than truly strong. And his relatively small hands and feet gave him an almost delicate appearance.

Just nothing,
she told herself.
Just so darned sure of himself that he puts the Indian sign on everyone. But, by gosh, I want him and I’m going to have him!

He caught her eye, came back around the car with the boot-wearer’s teetering, half-mincing walk.
Why did these yokels still wear boots, anyway, when most had scarcely sat a horse in years?
He slid in at her side, tucked a cigar into his mouth, and politely proffered one to her.

“Oh, cut it out, Tom!” she snapped. “Can’t you stop that stupid clowning for even a minute?”

“This ain’t your brand, maybe,” Lord suggested. “Or maybe you just don’t feel like a cigar?”

“I feel like getting back to town, that’s what I feel like! Now, are you going to take me or am I supposed to walk?”

“Might get there faster walkin’,” Lord drawled, “seein’ as how I got a busted front spring. On the other hand, howsomever, maybe you wouldn’t either. I figger it’s probl’y a sixty-five-mile walk, and I c’n maybe get this spring patched up in a couple of hours.”

“How—with what? There’s nothing out here but rattlesnakes.”

“Now, ain’t it the truth?” Lord laughed with secret amusement. “Not a danged thing but rattlesnakes, so I reckon I’ll get the boss rattler to help me.”

“Tom! For God’s sake!”

“Looky.” He pointed, cutting her off. “See that wildcat?”

She saw it then, the distant derrick of the wildcat—a test well in unexplored country. And even with her limited knowledge of such things, she knew that the car could be repaired there; sufficiently, at least, to get them back into town. A wildcatter had to be prepared for almost any emergency. He had to depend on himself, since he was invariably miles and hours away from others.

“Well, let’s get going,” she said impatiently. “I—” She broke off, frowning. “What did you mean by that rattlesnake gag? Getting the boss rattlesnake to help you?”

“Why, I meant what I said,” Lord declared. “What else would I mean, anyways?”

She looked at him, lips compressed. Then, with a shrug of pretended indifference, she took a compact from her purse and went through the motions of fixing her makeup. In his mood, it was the best way to handle him; that is, to show no curiosity whatsoever. Otherwise, she would be baited into a tantrum—teased and provoked until she lost control of herself, and thus lost still another battle in the maddening struggle of Tom Lord vs Joyce Lakewood.

The car lurched along at a snail’s crawl, the left-front mudguard banging and scraping against the tire, occasionally scraping against the road itself. Lord whistled tunelessly as he fought the steering wheel. He seemed very pleased with himself, as though some intricate scheme was working out exactly as he had planned. Along with this self-satisfaction, however, Joyce sensed a growing tension. It poured out of him like an electric current, a feeling that the muscles and nerves of his fine-drawn body were coiling for action, and that that action would be all that he anticipated.

BOOK: The Transgressors
2.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

My Highland Bride by Maeve Greyson
Braless in Wonderland by Debbie Reed Fischer
Eternity in Death by J. D. Robb
For the Defense by M.J. Rodgers
Flashman in the Peninsula by Robert Brightwell