THE WESTBOUND . by Earl Luby
E-m RE I LEFT the yards I found
a yard man who told me when the
westbound was going to move out
and he said he'd give me the high
sign all right.
"Sure. I like to see the other fella get
a break," he said. "Course, maybe I take
a little slin off my own hide by it ..."
"All I got's a quarter."
"Usually it's a half buck . .. but gim-
msee." I handed him the coin. "You
know how it is," he said, "I do something
for you and I do something for me.
Every little helps.,"
"You'll be damn sure," I said.
"Listen, buddy, okay, okay."
"Alt right, all right, Hold your horses."
"You be beside that toolshed over
there. Other side's safest. See . . . that's
Leaving the yards through a hole in
the fence went up to the town in the
valley beside the yellow river. It was
a mill town and it was Saturday night.
Around the freight station the gloomy
warehouses sat in the darkness and the
sky hung heavily. glowing deeply red
above the buildings in the south where
the mills were, x
I followed a street lined with taverns
From the store fronts drifted the sounds
of weekend merrymaking, cymbals
clashing, the occasional sputter of a
trumpet and the squeak of a poorly
played clarinet. The sounds like the soft
rays from the neon signs were soaked
up' by the night and hung, tremulous,
as if suspended in a liquid. Everything
felt dirty and loaded with the smell of
It didn't look like much, that was a
cinch. I was trying to pick out a place to
get a drink when a big brutish man
slouched out of an alley in front of me,
bulged through his loosely swinging
coat and he slouched along lazily and
powerfully with one aim swinging free
and the other hanging against his
thigh with the palm turned back toward
me. He looked into the windows he pas-
sed with a great deal of curiosity until
unexpectedly he turned into the door-
way of a tavern, Glancing over his
shoulder as he entered, something
caught his eye and for an instant he was
poised there, his legs bent slightly, a
faint lunge in his body, with his head
turned toward the warehouses in the
south. Pa a photographic instant there
was a delicate balance in his stopping
short, an unintentional rhythm, It was
as if he had stood on the point of his
toes. Then he turned sharply and went
It was crowded inside and when I
followed him, I was jammed up against
his back, A waiter, an entity of shiny
black coat, shiny black readymade bow-
tie and the shine of greasy highlights for
a face, came up to us,
The big fellow grunted. "What I look
like? Twins?" He looked around and saw
"Only got a small table. People just
leaving,' the waiter coaxed.
"Okay by me. I don't care. What the
"Okay with me," I said. "Okay. Sure,"
And I followed them to a table near the
dance floor close to a post. A half a
dozen wet rings gleamed up at us from
the table top, mutually intersecting into
Gothic designs; smudged and irregular,
but grouped around one pure circle al-
most in the center. The waiter wiped the
table with his cloth and they disap-
The big fellow didn't- look at me.
"Yeah" he said. I nodded. The big fellow
was looking around at the crowd. Drink-
id$ at the bar with three men was a good
locking widehipped girl with frizzy hair
dressed in a wrinkled tailored suit. She
leaned back among the men and then
swept the room nervously every minute
or two as if she hoped or feared she
would find someone in the crowd she
both wanted and didn't want to see.
Alone at the end of the bar, a pretty girl
with long hair curled at the ends looked
like a bargain day Juliet in her long
crepey gown of sudden green. The bar-
tender was, blinking fixedly at his col-
ored orchestra hidden on its stand in a
darkness of tobacco smoke. They played
blaring jazz. A tall thin man in a badly
fitting suit drawn tight in the back by
a belt asked the girl in green to dance.
They went- to the flor and she pressed
against him,'her lips almost touching
his, her eyes closed and. they began to
shag. They were expert and they always
seemed to bob impertinently and grace-
fully out of the stiff and jerky crowd,
Following the dancers had brought the
ever saying that to me, yet I recognized
him and the words didn't seem out of
"What about your job?" I didn't think
he was working but it changed the sub-
He spat. "I got enough of that. I don't
mind work, but not too much of it."
"I see your point, my fran," I said.
"But how about your wife and kids?"
Muscle was incredulous. "Hell!"
Neither of us spoke for a while after
"Workin's a funny thing,' he said
suddenly and I nodded. "This is an
awful hole, but workin' , . You know
that hot stuff over there." he waved in
the direction of the mills."God, but. .."
I nodded agails and he shook his head.
Thus an impersonal relationship was set
up between us as he fixed a wide stare
on me, drumming his big fingers on the
pouring ot of drinks and the bobbing
of the dancers, the drama at the bar,
and the sad-eyed little man, even the
maudlin howl of amateur quartets and
the longnosed elderly man with the
woman's hat on backwards and the
couple who kissed wetly across their
table, all fell into place as easily as the
parts of a large and intricate machine.
The grey faces and the hoarse talk and
the jar of hot music twisted together
until they weren't much different from
the nondescript rumble of metal drop-
ping into the ladle and the bell clang-
ing and the screeching crane and the
pulleys and the tons of white hot steel
drifting through the air. But I was
drinking quite a lot of beer.
There was something going on be-
tween Muscle and the girl at the bar.
I could see that. She wasn't giving him
the eye exactly. It was Muscle staring
at her and she wasn't looking around
anymore in that nervous way.' Between
them there was a look and it was some-
thing steady. All around there were the
pleated backs and the darktoned shirts
and the girl in green with her lips
touching her partner's face and bob-
bing in and out of the jerky crowd: and
I thought any minute the girl at the bar
was going to come over to Muscle, her
face was so intense and dark, or he
would go to her. The man she had been
playing for saw this and he stuck out
his lip at us, but the other one slobbered
all over the bartender. Muscle was ap-
praising the girl, but almost indifferent-
ly, insolently, with his lips pursed into a
critical smile, as if he were a connoigseur
of such looks. Then slowly, delib-
erately, with a hint of mirth around
his mouth, he turned again to watch
the dancers. The girl kept looking a
second . Then she turned as slowly, let
the men at the bar absorb her, bursting
finally into sudden and petulant chat-
ter, lavishly affectionate to the man
she had been playing for. He tossed
us another dirty look before he turned
"Say, Muscle," I said. "Got a match?"
"No, kid. You better get some. I
need some too," he said. The cigar
counter was near the door and I slipped
through the crowd. Passing the bar, I
saw the small sad faced man had left
the girl and her two men. Just as I
turned back, some woman screamed
and tables began to rattle. In a twisting
crowd around our table Muscle was
standing, slugging away at the little fel-
low with the dirty eyes.
"He's hitting Charlie!" the girl at the
bar screamed and Muscle was holding
him at arm's length, slapping his face
with the palm and then with the back of
his hand. Tables banked and someone
started shouting to let the little guy
alone and a waiter rushed up with the
man the girl at the bar had been play-
ing for. They all began slugging and
protecting the little man. Muscle
struggled in the middle and I tried to
get to him but-I couldn't very fast. He
slammed a fist into the waiter's greasy
face knocking him bouncing into the
crowd. The mast from the bar pumped
his arms like a runner But Muscle
stopped him with a stiff arm and about
then he must have realized he was in
the middle of everything because he
swept the crowd with a pleased jerk of
his head and swaying some like he was
drunk, he pressed his shoulders to the
post at our table. He swung then, all
over the place, hollering and hitting. His
arms seemed almost to flex with enjoy-
ment when their bullet movement stop-
ped against bone and flesh. But some-
one threw a chair and it ended his fun.
The force spent itself against the post
but Muscle dropped his fists with a silly
look and just flopped to the floor.
I got to -him in a hurry. .He was
big fellow's eyes around to mine. It
turned out he was much older than I
had expected. !is hair was greying. But
he looked me over with cold insolent
grey eyes. A fleshy nose, well shaped,
looked as if it had been broken several
times. There was a narrow white scar
obliquely across his forehead and I was
sure I'd seen him before.
"I'm getting out of this hole,' he said
"So'm I," I said, mostly in self-de-
"The town I mean. It stinks."
"How're you travelling?'.I asked po-
litely. "Bus, train, or airplane?"
"Funny guy, you are. What do you
think? By freight."
His voice while flat, unemphatic, held
the same confidence as his face, animal
and vibrant, yet still impassive. It made
me realize I must have seen him before.
"You're Muscle, aren't you?" I asked
He wasn't surprised. "Yeah,"
"I seen you somewhere."
I remembered clearly running into
him somewhere on the road. You do,
strangely, chasing over the country, cros-
sing up with the same people who are
always moving, the regulars. But I
wasn't sure about Muscle, where or
how. For some reason the words " . . .
kill you, soon as not" flashed into my
brain.I still don't remember anyone
-By Lawrence Ladrey, Jr.
He sat partly facing the bar. Sipping
his beer he watched the girl in the tail-
ored suit over his glass rim. She was
getting her bottom pinched but expert-
ly she moved the man's hand away and
paid exaggerated attention to one of
the other two. The man she played
for then moved in closer with a set
smile and the one she had turned to
grinned sloppily at her and ordered
another drink, his eyes popping and
the sweat glistening around his neck.
The girl still looked nervously around
and she had found Muscle. More and
more she met his steady stare.
Beside her, saying nothing, and
watching the small drama of two men
and a woman, the third man at the bar
hunched over his drink. Slight, spare,
his smooth features stretched tautly
over high cheek bones yet still retained
an uncanny softness. Under the broken
peak of his cloth cap his dark and hid-
den eyes only barely gleamed out of
the delicate oval of his face. He too
searched the room restlessly and soon
his eyes lingered on our table. His gaze
slid over Muscle's figure obscenely.
"Are you going west or east, or south
or north?" I asked Muscle, but he was
out of this world, so I ordered up and
watched the crowd.
Beneath the rough disorder of the
tavern everything was still precise. The