Consignment, p.1
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       Consignment, p.1

           Alan Edward Nourse
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  Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at




  [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from Science FictionAdventures Magazine December 1953. Extensive research did not uncoverany evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

  In the jungle the vicious man-killer is king, but what chance would a tiger have in the Times Square traffic.

  The three shots ripped through the close night air of the prison,sharply, unbelievably. Three guards crumpled like puppets in the deadsilence that followed. The thought flashed through Krenner's mind,incredibly, that possibly no one had heard.

  He hurled the rope with all his might up the towering rock wall, waiteda long eternity as the slim strong line swished through the darkness,and heard the dull "clank" as the hook took hold at the top. Like a cathe started up, frantically, scrambling, and climbing, the sharp heat ofthe rope searing his fingers. Suddenly daylight was around him, thebright unearthly glare of arc lights, the siren cutting in with itsfierce scream. The shouts of alarm were far below him as he fought upthe line, knot after knot, the carefully prepared knots. Twenty secondsto climb, he thought, just twenty seconds--

  * * * * *

  Rifle shots rang out below, the shells smashing into the concrete aroundhim. Krenner almost turned and snarled at the little circle of men inthe glaring light below, but turning meant precious seconds. A dull,painful blow struck his foot, as his hands grasped the jagged glass atthe top of the wall.

  In a moment of triumph he crouched at the top and laughed at the littlemen and the blazing guns below; on the other side lay the blackness ofthe river. He turned and plunged into the blackness, his footthrobbing, down swiftly until the cool wetness of the river closedabout him, soothing his pain, bathing his mind in the terrible beauty offreedom, and what went with freedom. A few dozen powerful strokes wouldcarry him across and down the river, three miles below the prisonfortress from which he had broken. Across the hill from that, somewhere,he'd find Sherman and a wide open road to freedom--

  * * * * *

  Free! Twenty-seven years of walls and work, bitterness and hateful,growing, simmering revenge. Twenty-seven years for a fast-moving worldto leave him behind, far behind. He'd have to be careful about that. Hewouldn't know about things. Twenty-seven years from his life, to killhis ambition, to take his woman, to disgrace him in the eyes of society.But the candle had burned through. He was free, with time, free, easy,patient time, to find Markson, search him out, kill him at last.

  Hours passed it seemed, in the cold, moving water. Krenner struggled tostay alert; loss of control now would be sure death. A few shots hadfollowed him from the wall behind, hopeless shots, hopeless littlespears of light cutting across the water, searching for him, a tiny dotin the blackness. Radar could never spot him, for he wore no metal, andthe sound of his movements in the water were covered by the sighing windand the splashing of water against the prison walls.

  Finally, after ages of pain and coldness, he dragged himself out ontothe muddy shore, close to the calculated spot. He sat on the edge andpanted, his foot swollen and throbbing. He wanted to scream in pain, butscreams would bring farmers and dogs and questions. That would not do,until he found Sherman, somewhere back in those hills, with a 'copter,and food, and medication, and quiet, peaceful rest.

  He tried to struggle to his feet, but the pain was too much now. He halfwalked, half dragged himself into the woods, and started as best hecould the trek across the hills.

  * * * * *

  Jerome Markson absently snapped on the radiovisor on his desk. Sippinghis morning coffee thoughtfully as he leafed through the reports on hisdesk, he listened with half an ear until the announcer's voice seepedthrough to his consciousness. He tightened suddenly in his seat, and thecoffee cooled before him, forgotten.

  "--Eastern Pennsylvania is broadcasting a four-state alarm with specialradiovisor pictures in an effort to pick up the trail of a convict whoescaped the Federal Prison here last night. The escaped man, who shotand killed two guards making good his escape, dived into the riveradjoining the prison, and is believed to have headed for an outsiderendezvous somewhere in the Blue Mountain region. The prisoner is JohnKrenner, age 51, gray hair, blue eyes, five-foot-nine. He is armed anddangerous, with four unsuccessful escape attempts, and three knownmurders on his record. He was serving a life term, without leniency, forthe brutal murder in July, 1967, of Florence Markson, wife of thenow-famous industrialist, Jerome Markson, president of MarksonFoundries. Any person with information of this man's whereabouts shouldreport--"

  Markson stared unbelieving at the face which appeared in the visor.Krenner, all right. The same cold eyes, the same cruel mouth, the samesneer. He snapped off the set, his face white and drawn. To face thebitter, unreasoning hate of this man, his former partner--even a prisoncouldn't hold him.

  A telephone buzzed, shattering the silence of the huge office.

  "Hello, Jerry? This is Floyd Gunn in Pittsburgh. Krenner's escaped!"

  "I know. I just heard. Any word?"

  "None yet. We got some inside dope from one of the men in the prisonthat he has an outside escape route, and that he's been digging up allthe information he could find in the past three months or so about theRoads. But I wanted to warn you." The policeman's voice sounded distantand unreal. "He promised to get you, Jerry. I'm ordering you and yourhome heavily guarded--"

  "Guards won't do any good," said Markson, heavily. "Krenner will get meif you don't get him first. Do everything you can."

  The policeman's voice sounded more cheerful. "At any rate, he's in theeastern part of the state now. He has four hundred miles to travelbefore he can get to you. Unless he has a 'copter, or somehow gets onthe Roads, he can't get to you for a day or so. We're doing everythingwe can."

  Markson hung up the receiver heavily. Twenty-seven years of peace sincethat devil had finally murdered his way out of his life. And now he wasback again. A terrible mistake for a partner, a man with no reason, aman who could not understand the difference between right and wrong. Aman with ruthless ambition, who turned on his partner when honesty gotin his way, and murdered his partner's wife in rage when his own way ofbusiness was blocked. A man so twisted with rage that he threatened onthe brink of capital punishment to tear Markson's heart out, yet Marksonhad saved him from the chair. An appeal, some money, some influence, hadsnatched him from death's sure grasp, so he could come back to killagain. And a man with such diabolical good fortune that he could nowcome safely to Markson, and hunt him out, and carry out the fanciedrevenge that his twisted mind demanded.

  Markson took the visiphone in hand again and dialed a number. The faceof a young girl appeared. "Hi, dad. Did you see the news report?"

  "Yes, I saw it. I want you to round up Jerry and Mike and take the'copter out to the summer place on Nantucket. Wait for me there. I don'tknow how soon I can make it, but I don't want you here now. Leaveimmediately."

  The girl knew better than to argue with her father. "Dad, is there anychance--?"

  "There's lots of chance. That's why I want you away from here."

  He flipped off the connection, and sighed apprehensively. Now to wait.The furnaces had to keep going, the steel had to be turned out, one wayor another. He'd have to stay. And hope. Perhaps the police _would_ gethim--

  * * * * *

  The elderly lady sat on the edge of the kitchen chair, shivering. "We'llbe glad to help you, but you won't hurt us, will you?"

  "Shut up," said Krenner. The gray plastic of his pistol gleamed dully inthe poor light of the farm kitchen. "Get that foot dressed, with tightpressure and plenty of 'mycin. I don't want it to bleed, and I don'twant an infection." The woman hurried her movements, swiftly wrappingthe swollen foot.

  The man lifted a sizzling frying pan from the range, flipping ahamburger onto a plate. He added potatoes and carrots. "Here's thefood," he said sullenly. "And you might put the gun away. We don't haveweapons, and we don't have a 'phone."

  "You have legs," snapped Krenner. "Now shut up."

  The woman finished the dressing. "Try it," she said. The convict stoodup by the chair, placing his weight on the foot gingerly. Pain leapedthrough his leg, but it was a clean pain.
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