Goodbye, dead man!, p.1
Goodbye, Dead Man!, p.1Tom W. Harris
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Mattup had killed a man, so it was logical he should be punished. It was Danny who came up with the idea of leaving him with the prophecy--
Goodbye, Dead Man!
_by Tom W. Harris_
It was Orley Mattup's killing of the old lab technician that really madeus hate him.
Mattup was a guard at the reactor installation at Bayless, Kentucky,where my friend Danny Hern and I were part of the staff when theOutsiders took everything over. In what god-forsaken mountain hole theyhad found Mattup, and how they got him to sell out to them, I don'tknow. He was an authentic human, though. You can tell an Outsider.
Mattup and Danny and I were playing high-low-jack the night Uncle Petewas killed, sitting on the widewalk where Mattup had a view of the partof the station he was responsible for. High-low-jack is a back-countrycard game; Danny had learned it in northern Pennsylvania, where he camefrom, and Mattup loved the game, and they had taught it to me becausethe game is better three-handed. The evening sessions had been Danny'sidea--I think he figured it might give him a line on Mattup.
On the night in question, Mattup was on a week's losing streak and wasin a foul humor. He was superstitious, and he had called for a new decktwice that evening and walked around his seat four different times. Hisbidding was getting wilder.
"You'd better cool down," Danny told him. "Thing to do is ride out thebad luck, not fight it."
Orley picked his nose and looked at his cards, "Bid four," he growled.
Four is the highest possible bid. Tim played his cards well and he hadgood ones. He had sewed up three of his points when we heard somebodymoving around down on the reactor floor. It was old Uncle Pete Barker,one of the technicians.
"What you want down there?" bawled Mattup.
"Just left my cap by the control room," said Uncle Pete, "and thoughtI'd go get it."
"You keep the hell away from there," grunted Mattup.
Uncle Pete stopped and stood gazing up at us. We went on playing. It wasthe last card of the hand, and would either win the game for Mattup orlose it for him. Orley slapped his card down; it was a crucial card, thejack. Danny took it with a queen and Mattup had lost the game.
I felt like clearing out. Mattup's face was purple and his eyes lookedlike wolves' eyes. He glared at Danny, making a noise in his throat, andthen I saw his gaze leave Danny and go to something down by the reactor.
It was Uncle Pete, shuffling along toward the control room.
Mattup didn't say a word. He stood up and unholstered the thing theOutsiders had given him and pointed it at Uncle Pete. There was aringing in our ears and Uncle Pete began to twist. Something inside himtwisted him, twisting inside his arms, his legs, head, trunk, even hisfingers. It was only for a few seconds. Then the ringing stopped, andUncle Pete sunk to the ground, and there was the silence and the smell.
Mattup made us leave the body there until we had played two more hands.Danny won one; he was a man with good nerves. When we were back in ourroom he said, "That did it--I'm going to get that guy."
"I hate his big thick guts," I said, buttoning my pajama shirt, "but howare you going to get him?"
"I'll get him," said Danny. "Meanwhile, we'll keep playing cards."
Things went on almost normally at the Bayless reactor. It was aprivately-owned pool-type reactor, and we were sent samples of all sortsof material for irradiation from all over the country. Danny was one ofthe irradiation men; I generally handled controlling. The Outsiders hadfilled the place with telescreens and guards, and all mail was opened,but there was no real interference with the work. I began to worry alittle about Danny. Almost every afternoon he spent an hour alone in ourroom, with the door closed.
Mattup kept getting worse; an animal with power. He used to go huntingwith the damnable Outsider weapon, although the meat killed with itwasn't fit to eat, and he used it on birds until there wasn't one leftanywhere near the plant. He never killed a bluebird, though. He said itwas bad luck. Sometimes he drank moonshine corn liquor, usually alone,because the Outsiders wouldn't touch it, but sometimes he made some ofus drink with him, watching sharply to see we didn't poison him andcraftily picking his nose. When he was drunk he was abusive.
* * * * *
One night we were in our room, dead for sleep after a long game, andDanny said, "Let me show you something."
He shuffled the cards, I cut, and he dealt me an ace, king, queen, jack,ten and deuce of spades. He shuffled again and dealt me the same inhearts.
"Watch as closely as you can," he grinned. "See if you can catch me."
"I've been practicing," he said. "I'm going to get Mattup."
"What good will it do to beat him in cards? You'll only make him sore."I was relieved to learn what Danny had been doing, alone in our room,but this card-sharp angle didn't make much sense to me.
"Who says I'm going to beat him at cards?" smiled Danny. "By the way,did you hear the rumor? They're going to break up the staff, Outsiderpolicy, send us to Oak Ridge, Argonne, Shippingport, send new peopledown here."
"That doesn't leave you much time," I said.
"Time enough," said Danny.
The next night Mattup began a fantastic streak of luck. It seemed hecouldn't lose, and he was as unpleasant a winner as he was a loser.
"You boys don't know what card-playin' is," he'd gloat. "Think you'repretty smarty with all that science stuff but you can't win a plain oldcard game. You know why you can't beat me, boys?"
"Because you're too smart, I guess," said Danny.
"Well, yeah, and somethin' else. I dipped my hands in spunk water, up onthe mountain where you can never find it, and besides that I spit onever' card in this deck and wiped it off. Couldn't lose now to save mylife."
"Maybe you're right," said Danny, and went on dealing.
In a few days the rumor of moving was confirmed; I was being sent to OakRidge, Danny to Argonne. Mattup kept winning, and "suggested" that weraise the stakes. By the day that we were to leave we owed him everycent we had.
I paid up soberly; I wouldn't give Mattup any satisfaction bycomplaining. It looked as though Danny wasn't going to "get" Mattupafter all. But Danny surprised me.
"Look, buster," he wheedled. "If I pay you seventy-five bucks I won'thave a cent left. How about me paying half now and the rest later?"
"No good," said Mattup. "You got it--pay me. If you can't pay cash gimmeyour watch. I know you got one."
"Quit callin' me buster."
"What am I going to live on until I get paid again?"
"What do I care?"
It went on like that until the busses for the airport were nearly readyto leave and both men seemed angry enough to kill each other.
"Let's go," I begged Danny. "Pay him and leave."
"All right then!" Danny snapped, and pulled out his wallet. He countedout all his bills into Mattup's hand.
"You're a buck short," said Mattup.
"Why not forget the buck?" said Danny. "You can spare it."
"You're a buck short," repeated Mattup, scowling.
Danny dashed his wallet to the ground. "You're even taking my change!"He got his jacket from the back of a chair--it was a hot day--andemptied change from the side pocket.
There were two quarters and a half dollar, and he paid them over. "Ihave eleven cents left," he said. "Hell, take that too. I don't give adamn."
Mattup grinned. "Sure I'll take it--if you weren't lying when you said Icould have it."
"It'll break me," said Danny.
"I know it," said Mattup. "G
The bus driver was honking. "The hell with you," Danny said to Mattup,and gave him a dime and a penny. He looked Mattup in the eye with astrange expression. "Now, I gave you that and you didn't win it. Youtook it of your own free will. I offered it to you and you took it.Right?"
"Right," said Mattup. "Sucker."
We scrambled on the bus and as it pulled away Danny yelled "Hey, Buster,look!" Mattup looked, and Danny stuck his right arm out the window,pointing at Mattup with his right forefinger and his little finger stuckout straight and parallel, the thumb tucked under. A strange, disturbedlook came over Orley. He turned his back as the bus roared out of thedrive.
At the airport Danny popped into a phone-booth and got Orley on theline--nobody seemed to care, either Outsiders or guards--and he let melisten.
"Spent your money yet, dead man?" purred Danny.
"Whacha mean, dead man?" gruffed Orley's voice. "You crazy orsomething?"
"You know that eleven cents extra you took?" gloated Danny. "It's gonnakill you, Buster, for killing Uncle Pete, and for everything else you'vedone. I know. I've been talking nights to Uncle Pete. You're a deadduck, Orley Mattup! Dead!"
"That's--I don't believe it, it's baloney! I'm going to spend thateleven cents and get rid of it."
"You do exactly that, Buster. I locked the curse on it, and I made thesign on you, and you have to keep that eleven cents the rest of yourlife. If you spend it--or if you lose it, and you will lose it--that'sthe end of you."
"I'll come out there and pound the hell out of you!" yelled Mattup.
"Too late, Buster, our planes are leaving. Goodbye, dead man!"
And we had to run for our planes. Danny's pitch sounded pretty weak tome, even though Orley was superstitious, but I didn't get to tell Dannythat until nearly five years later.
* * * * *
"I think I got him," said Danny. "You don't know the whole thing."
A hotel clerk had been listening. "You mean Orley Mattup, the guard? Hegot sick, and said he had a hex on him, and took off one day and a lotlater they found him up on the mountain. He was dead."
"Any money on him?" asked Danny.
"Jest some change. They buried it with him; they heard the hex waslocked onto that money."
"Congratulations," I told Danny. "I didn't think it'd work. You scaredhim to death."
"Not quite," said Danny. "I scared him into hanging onto the money. Thatmoney would have killed anybody that carried it much longer than the fewminutes I handled it. I'd been keeping the stuff in the reactor beamtubes. It was radioactive as hell."
This etext was produced from _Imagination Stories of Science and Fantasy_ April 1958. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and typographical errors have been corrected without note.
Goodbye, Dead Man! by Tom W. Harris / Science Fiction have rating 3.8 out of 5 / Based on19 votes