Georgie came back into the room, and took a seat in a chair near the door. He carried a handgun instead of the rifle, and he pushed it inside his jacket into a shoulder holster. He crossed his arms and sat watching us carefully.
"Y'know, Georgie," I said, "if your boss went out to get us sandwiches, I really wish he'd asked us what we wanted first." He looked at me, his face an utter blank. "Whatsamatta, Georgie?" I continued. "Cat got your tongue, or are you still trying to figure out what I meant?"
This time his face turned sour, and he leaned forward. "You think you're such a wise guy, don't you? You figure I'm just some dumb lug who don't do nothin' but take orders from Lou. Well, shows what you know. You wouldn't understand half of what goes on here, what we do for Mister Milkbone. You wouldn't know what it means to be part of a team. Well, I'd say right now I look a whole lot smarter than you do. After all, who's sitting there tied up - you or me?"
He paused for a second, and I let him. "I thought you wouldn't have such a smart answer to that," he said. "Now shut up. Lou said to keep you two quiet, and I got nothin' else to say to you."
"Teamwork," I said, "that's real good there, Georgie. Is that what it was when you teamed up to kill that boy in your boss' mill town? What position did you play on the team, huh Georgie? Did you pull the trigger, or were you just an accessory to the murder?"
Georgie began to get that agitated, panicky look on his face that I'd seen before. He half rose out of his seat. "I said shut up!" he shouted.
"Y'know the only problem is, judges just ain't very understanding when you explain how you were just being part of the team. They tend to send guys to the gas chamber one at a time - no team spirit." I paused, and Georgie fidgeted in his chair a little. "Of course, you don't have to worry about that. The fellas you got after you now ain't gonna wait for the courts to dispense justice. Too bad, isn't it Georgie? I guess sometimes you lose a game on the home field." He was looking down at the floor now, his expression hidden. I continued, "You thought you were just batting clean up on a little local problem for your boss, and turns out you got bumped right up to the major leagues."
The big terrier looked up at me, scowling. He was angry but more caught up in his own internal thoughts, whatever they might be. "Shut up, Spaniel," he said flatly, "You don't know what you're talkin' about." He stood up and turned to face the door, looking out into the clearing. I took advantage of the opportunity to do a little fidgeting of my own. I was able to loosen my hands just enough to reach down towards my lower back. There, at the very base of my tail, strapped to the underside, was a small sheath that held a small but very sharp knife. It had been my experience that hardly anyone searched the tail very well during a routine frisk, and no one ever seemed to look underneath. With the tips of my fingers, I eased the knife out of its little holster, sweating and hoping that the big dog wouldn't turn around. Finally, the knife came free, and I gingerly moved the blade up into my paw. The knife was short and triangular, with a T-shaped handle. One edge was serrated, the other smooth. I felt for the serrated edge, then began to work it against the ropes tying my wrists.
"So what's it feel like to be a marked man, Georgie?" I called out, not wanting to arouse suspicion with my silence. "Milkbone may have the cops of a coupla western states in his hip pocket, but them wolves from back east don't give up, and they don't ever forget. One day, sooner or later, they're gonna find you and punch your card, Georgie."
He whirled around, his face twisted with fury. "Will you just SHUT THE HELL UP!" he bellowed. He strode over to stand directly in front of me, and I stopped the sawing motion with my knife. For a minute I thought he was going to start laying into me. He was quivering, and glaring down at me. I held his gaze, waiting for whatever would come next. But instead of belting me one, he seemed to relax, and took a step back. "Lou said you was mixed up with them mobsters. That's why I don't feel bad about what's gonna happen to you. You asked me what it's like to be a marked man - you oughta know, you are one yourself. In fact, you're gonna help us so that we don't have to worry about them mobsters anymore." He cracked a smile. "See you think you're so smart - but you ain't as smart as me, Lou and Mr. Milkbone put together. By tonight, you'll be dead, and then the cops'll run them gangsters outta town. By this time next week, everything'll be back to normal around here." He walked back over to his seat and took his jacket off, hanging it over the back of the chair. He sat down again.
"And what about her," I said, nodding in Sonya's direction. "You gonna be glad to see her dead too, Georgie? You gonna pull the trigger on some little dame all tied up in a chair? Is that what kinda game your team likes to play?" He turned to look over at Sonya, a great sadness coming into his face. I took the opportunity to make a few more quick strokes with my knife. The ropes around my wrists were now mere threads, and I knew I could easily break them when the time came. I palmed the knife again as he turned back.
"There's nothin' I can do about that," he said darkly. Sonya had been listening and watching intently, but she just sat there with her eyes wide. Georgie stood and walked over to her. I reached up behind my back and began cutting through the ropes that bound me to my chair. "Look, Miss Mao," Georgie said, "everything might work out just fine. Lou said he didn't know what was gonna happen - that it would depend on how things go tonight. Tomorrow you might be sittin' right back in your restaurant." Sonya gave him a look that was as cold and hard as the iceberg that sank the Titanic, then just turned her face away. Georgie seemed to sag just a little bit.
"Georgie, you're a real silver tongued devil," I called out. "Is that what you told the Peters girl too? That she'd be sitting right back in her bedroom after she did her little 'job' for you and your boss? I'll bet she was plenty happy when you introduced her to Lou. You musta known at the time he was gonna kill her in cold blood. How'd you like that, Georgie? Were you saying 'Everything'll be just fine' when you lit her on fire and pushed her over that cliff?" He whirled around to face me, the rage very close in his eyes. I sneered at him. "Does a girl ever get a second date with you, Georgie, or do you always bump 'em off before that first goodnight kiss?" Suddenly, he lunged towards me, and this time he did hit me - a right cross smack in the muzzle. The big dog packed quite a wallop - I saw stars and it was all I could do to keep hold of my little knife and not rip the thin strands of rope that held my hands behind the chair. When my vision cleared, I could see him still standing in front of me, his dukes up. His face was a portrait of rage and impotent fury, highlighted with the unmistakable brush strokes of despair.
I almost felt sorry for him. It was obvious that Georgie just wasn't cut out for the line of work he'd gotten himself into. Lou had him on a short leash, and somewhere deep down, even a dim bulb like him must have realized that when the time came for somebody to take the fall, he was first in line. But I had no time to worry about how Georgie would end up, I had to get out of the fix I was in. I just about had him where I wanted him. I gave him an angry look, and spat blood out of the corner of my mouth onto the floor. It was time to finish this up.
"You know you're gonna be the first to go, don't you?" I said. "Milkbone and Lou won't think twice about throwing you to the wolves when it comes to saving their own pelts. Well, I got news for you Georgie - it's comin' sooner than you thought. You're right, I am mixed up with the gangsters, and I told 'em where I was going before I came out here." He lowered his fists and looked at me uncertainly. "That's right," I said, "and that's not all I told 'em. I told 'em that you were the one that did it, Georgie. You're the one who pulled the trigger on their sonny boy. I told 'em Lou and Milkbone put you up to it, but you were the one with the gun. They're comin' for you first, Georgie, and I told 'em right where they could find you. And when they get here, they're gonna want to find out if what I said is true - they'll want to find out just what you know and who else they have to get their paws on. Those wolves know things about pain, Georgie. They're gonna twist the truth outta you, just like you'd twist dirty water out of a rag. They may kill all of us, but you know what - I don't care, because I know when they get here they're gonna take you apart nice and slow. I just hope they let me live long enough to hear the sounds you're gonna make when they're cuttin' you up."
His hands were at his sides now, the look on his face one of utter horror. His eyes were wide, his nostrils quivering. I cracked a wild grin at him, twisted my head a little to the side and twitched my left shoulder up to the side of my head.
"Oh my god," Sonya cried out, right on cue, "Oh my god! Oh no, Oh no..." Georgie whirled around to look at her, she was staring straight ahead with her eyes wide open, her fur standing on end. She looked like she'd just seen the ghosts of all her ancestors come into the room. She continued moaning "Oh no, oh no..."
Georgie went over to where she sat, "What's the matter, Miss Mao?" he asked worriedly.
She turned her spooked gaze on him. "They're going to kill us all, Georgie! None of us are getting out of this alive!" She began to look furtively around the room as if the gangsters might be trying to come in through the cracks in the walls. "They'll kill every one of us! We'll all be dead! All of us!"
She was doing a good job with the hysterical bit. With Georgie's back to me, I broke the ropes around my wrists and finished off the ones around my chest with a few strokes of the knife. I bent over and hacked at the ropes around my ankles as Sonya continued babbling. She didn't look at me, but her gaze continued to flit around the room, not focusing on anything for more than a second. Georgie was bent over her, practically wringing his hands. Finally, I cut the last of the rope that held me to the chair. Sonya's frantic gaze finally came to rest on the small window set in the door. She was practically shrieking. "They're here now, Georgie! I just saw a light outside! It's them! They're coming for us!" Georgie wheeled to look at the door, facing completely away from me. He began to move towards the door.
He never made it. I brought the chair I'd been sitting in down across the back of his neck as hard as I could. The chair cracked and he went down. I was on him in a second, grabbed the gun in his shoulder holster, slid it out and leaped back. He groaned and reached for his piece, but it was too late - I had him covered. He lay in a heap on the floor, groaning.
I kept my eyes and my gun pointed at him as I backed over to where Sonya was. I still had the knife, and I used it to cut loose the ropes around her chest and hands while keeping Georgie covered with the gun as best I could. He was still groggy, but I knew he'd be coming around in a second. When Sonya's hands were loose, I handed her the knife and she went to work on her ankles. In a moment she too was free.
She stood next to me and handed my knife back, and we both looked at Georgie, stirring slowly on the floor. "Did you really see a light out there?" I asked her.
"No, Sam," she said. "Did you really tell the gangsters where you were going?"
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