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  3. Ray Aggarstone took the Northern Line from Leicester Square. It was some time
  4. since he had gone anywhere by Underground. Either he had used his car or had taken
  5. taxis for shorter journeys. But now that he was almost ready for what he liked to call,
  6. to himself but not to anybody else, the Big Getaway, he had sold his car for just over
  7. four hundred quid. Just showed you how useful it could be to chat somebody up, in
  8. this case that stupid sod who was always in the Saloon bar of the King's Arms. While
  9. waiting on the crowded platform at Leicester Square, Ray told himself once again that
  10. he was careful as well as very clever. For instance, after that car deal and with a few
  11. drinks inside them, some fellows would have boasted about the Brazilian setup and
  12. the flight to Rio, but not Ray — not on your life! He had told this stupid sod exactly
  13. the same story he had told his mother and his wife, Cherry, now waiting for him
  14. somewhere near the end of this Northern Line. "Going to France, old man — Nice
  15. actually — where I've bought into a very promising property deal. Smart work, if I
  16. may say so."
  18. But of course he hadn't shown him the letters he'd concocted to show his Mum and
  19. Cherry, now ready to part with eight thousand between them, about all they had. They
  20. were both so excited about his plan for them to join him at Nice within the next two or
  21. three weeks, like a pair of idiotic kids, they left business entirely to him, Mum's clever
  22. handsome son, Cherry's dominating, fascinating if occasionally unfaithful husband.
  23. Serve them right when he vanished with the two cheques he was going to collect —
  24. the silly cows!
  26. No train yet but more people arriving on the platform. He changed his place,
  27. bumping and shoving a bit, if only to show these types what he thought about them. A
  28. run-down lot in a running-down country! He could never come back of course, not
  29. after those two women finally decided he'd robbed them blind, but he didn't want to
  30. anyhow. He'd had it here all right — finish! He couldn't blame Rita and Karl for
  31. sneering and jeering, even though now and again they got his goat, specially Karl. But
  32. that was early on, before they began to talk business.
  34. The train came along, already more than half full. And because he hadn't stood
  35. near the platform edge, though he pushed and shoved as hard as anybody, perhaps a
  36. bit harder than most, of course he didn't get a seat — not a hope! So there he was,
  37. standing and swaying, wedged in with a lot of'fat arses, smelly underclothes and bad
  38. breath. Looking around, disgusted, he couldn't imagine now what had made him come
  39. down here when he might have hired a car, travelled in comfort and also impressed
  40. Mum and Cherry. So, to stop cursing himself, he began thinking about Rita and Karl
  41. again. After all he'd be meeting them in Rio in two or three days, and he began to
  42. wonder how things would work over there. Every time Karl, who was her husband all
  43. right, had gone to Manchester or Leeds and had stayed the night, he'd had Rita, a hot
  44. brunette if there ever was one, who'd start moaning if a finger touched a tit. Did Karl
  45. know, just guess, not care — or what? Anyhow, what Karl, a real businessman in the
  46. German-Swedish style, did know was that his friend, smart Ray Aggarstone, would be
  47. shortly financing most of the deal they'd worked out. Moreover, there must be plenty
  48. of hot moaning brunettes in Brazil.
  50. Tottenham Court Road and people, dreary bloody people, pushing their way out
  51. and pushing their way in. And off again — sway, rattle, bang, bang, rattle, sway. A
  52. long thin woman, loaded with parcels, dug an elbow into his ribs, and he used his own
  53. elbow, with some force, to knock it away. She glared at him over her parcels, but all
  54. he did was to raise his eyebrows at her. After a moment or two she was able to move
  55. away a few inches. It was then that a curious thing happened. Through the gap she
  56. had left between them he saw for the first time a small figure sitting down. It had the
  57. face of an old-looking boy or a rather young-looking dwarf. He stared at this creature,
  58. who then met his stare with a widening of the eyes, odd eyes, yellowish. Next, the
  59. little oddity closed his eyes and moved his head slowly from side to side, almost as if
  60. he was giving a "No-no-no" signah As soon as the eyes opened again, Ray gave them
  61. a hard scowling look. But now there was no sign of recognition in them. It was just as
  62. if Ray was no longer there at all. The boy-or-dwarf might have been looking through
  63. him. A silly idea. Ray began to think how he would deal with Mum and Cherry.
  65. At Euston there was a lot more pushing out and shoving in, twerps on the move.
  66. The little monster had gone, and in his place was a fat suet-faced woman who stared
  67. angrily at anything or nothing, just to prove she had a right to a seat. Rattling and
  68. swaying on again, Ray told himself how he ought to deal with Mum and Cherry this
  69. time. Very different, he decided, from last time when he'd been all solemn, very much
  70. the business man, explaining again why Cherry had to stay with Mum, now that he'd
  71. got. rid of their flat, and why he was staying in an hotel to be near the two Frenchmen
  72. who'd agreed to let him buy into the big property development just outside Nice. This
  73. time, everything being settled now they were giving him their cheques, there'd be no
  74. point in going on with the solemn business thing. It would have to be all merry chitchat
  75. about Nice and the Riviera, how they'd be joining him down there quite soon,
  76. how he'd be arranging their flights, booking a posh double-bedded room with bath for
  77. Cherry and him, with a good single nearby for Mum, and at least one balcony the
  78. three could use for breakfast — all that bullshit. Yes, there he'd be, egging them on,
  79. the stupid cows, maybe taking them out to a pub if Mum hadn't got anything in to
  80. drink.
  82. Somebody touched his arm. This was deliberate. A woman was smiling at him. She was
  83. an oldish woman, white-haired but with a plump red-cheeked face and bright blue eyes;
  84. and he'd seen her before somewhere. "You're Ray Aggarstone, aren't you?"she said,
  85. smiling away.
  87. It seemed as if he hadn't time to think before he heard himself saying, "No, I'm
  88. not." He said it sharply too, as if really telling her to mind her own dam' business.
  89. It wiped the smile off her face and narrowed and darkened her eyes, almost turning
  90. her into another person. "I think you are Ray Aggarstone, y'know," she said; and
  91. though the train was making a lot of noise, somehow she managed to say it quietly.
  92. "And you must remember me. I'm an old friend of your mother's."
  94. She must have been too, he realized now. But he hadn't to be bothered with her,
  95. when he was busy with his own thoughts and plans. He shook his head at her. "Got
  96. this all wrong." And he had to shout because the train might have been-grinding its
  97. way through rocks, the noise it was making. "I don't know you. And you don't know
  98. me."
  100. "Yes, I do. Or I did do, once," she went on steadily. "She thought the world of you,
  101. Ray. Her only son — so good-looking, so clever!"
  103. He found a snarl coming out of him this time. "Do you mind! Just turn it up!" And
  104. he looked away, to get rid of her. But when he turned his head again, she was still
  105. there, though not quite so close, having managed to back away from him a little. And
  106. now she seemed a lot older and was giving him a long sad look. He couldn't return
  107. it— he suddenly felt he had nothing to return it with, not even a scowl— so he looked
  108. away again and was relieved to find the train was stopping at Camden Town. This
  109. time not many got in, but then not many got out, so he was still forced to stand, even
  110. though he'd a bit more space round him. And this suited him all right because if there
  111. was one thing he didn't like it was being jammed among all these idiotic, bloody
  112. disgusting people, staring old cows, smelly bitches and stupid buggers of all ages and
  113. sizes. When he got to Brazil and the money was rolling in, as Karl swore it would,
  114. he'd work it so that there was no more of this horrible caper. The only people allowed
  115. near him would be the ones he could enjoy seeing, hearing, smelling and touching.
  117. As the train started rattling and banging off again, he started thinking again.
  118. Working out how he'd deal with Cherry and his mother, chatting them up about life on
  119. the Riviera, breakfasts on balconies, drinks to welcome the wonderful new life, laughs
  120. and hugs and kisses and all that female crap, he realised he'd overdone it, not for them
  121. but for himself. For what he'd gone and done, if only for a minute or two, was to go
  122. soft and feel a bit sorry for both of them, considering that he was about to skin them
  123. down to their last fifty quid each. No time for that tonight! He'd got to be as sensible
  124. and hard as he'd been when he worked out the plan. Serve 'em right for not having
  125. more sense! He'd to look after himself, so they could look after themselves— and
  126. women always managed somehow. And he began to remember and light up every
  127. grievance he'd ever had against the pair of 'em. He'd deal with them the way he'd
  128. planned, pretending to be as silly as they were, and when they laughed then he'd laugh
  129. too, even, just for a private giggle, bringing out and fiourishing his wallet, which
  130. already had in it his Air France ticket to Rio.
  132. It was just past Chalk Farm when. the man tapped him on the shoulder. He was a
  133. tall man, so tall he had to bend over Ray, and he had very sharp grey eyes and a long
  134. chin.
  136. "Better get out at Hampstead," the man said, almost in Ray's ear.
  138. "Can't do," Ray told him briskly. "Going as far as Hendon Central. Unless of
  139. course I have to change. Is that it?"
  141. "You might say that's it." A solemn reply.
  143. This sounded idiotic to Ray. "I don't know what you're talking about." This tall
  144. fellow didn't look a chump, but then, like so many people now, he might be round the
  145. bend.
  147. Two women pushed past them, getting ready for Belsize Park. The man waited but
  148. then he tapped Ray on the shoulder again and bent closer to his ear. "Just a last word.
  149. Most people think this line's at its deepest at Hampstead. What they don't know —
  150. and I don't suppose you do — is that there's a second line, starting at Hampstead, that
  151. goes deeper still — on and on, deeper and deeper —"
  153. "Oh — come off it!" Ray was impatient now: This was obviously a crackpot.
  155. "I'm not on it." The man gave a short crackpot's laugh. "But you may be if you
  156. don't get out at Hampstead and then take a taxi or a bus — and go back."
  158. "That's enough," Ray told him. "I'll mind my own business and you mind yours."
  160. "No, it's not as simple as that," said the tall man quite mildly. "You're pait of my
  161. business now. That's why I'm telling you — not asking you, telling you — to forget
  162. Hendon Central and get out at Hampstead —"
  164. Ray lost his temper. "And I'm telling you — not asking you — to piss off."
  166. The train was slowing up. Belsize Park now. There were sufficient people getting
  167. out to push between Ray and the tall man, but then there was quite a gap between
  168. them now. Only a few got on, and Ray saw that he could have a seat at last if he
  169. wanted one. But somehow he didn't. Perhaps he felt he might go soft again if he sat
  170. down. Better to keep on standing and be hard and tough. The tall man, easily seen,
  171. had moved down and was now near the far door, ready to get out at Hampstead,
  172. where the big daft sod thought everybody ought to get out. All these mental hospitals
  173. and yet a crackpot pest like this was allowed to wander around loose, making a
  174. bloody nuisance of himself! Anyhow, as soon as the train pulled up at Hampstead, out
  175. the chap went, followed by nearly everybody else. This left the carriage almost empty.
  176. Ray could have taken as many seats as he wanted now, but he didn't make a move, not
  177. for the moment trusting himself to let go of the strap he was clinging to, for he had to
  178. admit that he felt a bit faint, probably because of all the clattering and swaying and
  179. what so many stinking people had done to the air had combined to make him feel faint.
  181. This was an unusually long wait. He closed his eyes, just for a few moments, and
  182. when he opened them again he was both surprised and alarmed to discover that he had
  183. the whole long carriage to himself. Nobody else at all in sight. Had they shouted,
  184. "Hampstead— all change!" and he'd missed it? Even dim as he felt, he was about to
  185. make for the door when, with an unpleasant jerk, the train started again. Then two
  186. things, equally unpleasant, happened together. There were several loud bangs and the
  187. lights went out. Badly shaken, there in the dark with the train obviously gathering
  188. speed, he made up his mind he would get out at the next stop, which would be
  189. Golders Green, and find a taxi to take him up to Mum's place. The lights came on
  190. again, and though they seemed bright enough at first, after the dark, he soon realized
  191. that in fact they were much lower than they'd been before. Ten to one some powercut
  192. frigging nonsense!
  194. Then quite suddenly — and it came like a hammer-blow at the heart — he knew
  195. that this train was going nowhere near Golders Green. At the same time he felt that it
  196. wasn't moving like all the others, which went more or less level or climbed a bit to
  197. rush out into the open air. No, it was going down and down. And what had that tall
  198. crackpot said! Something about a second line going deeper still — on and on, deeper
  199. and deeper — ? He tried to forget this but he couldn't, and he began to wish there was
  200. somebody else with him who could explain what was happening. The train went
  201. rattling on, faster now than the usual underground train. There was nothing to be seen
  202. of course, and with this poor lighting he could hardly catch a glimpse of his own
  203. reflection. He tried cursing and blinding, to stop himself feeling frightened; but it
  204. didn't work.
  206. However, bringing a flood of relief, something happened he never remembered
  207. seeing before on an underground train. Some sort of conductor chap, wearing a dark
  208. uniform, had come through a door at the far end of the carriage and was now walking
  209. towards him— that is, if you could call this slow shuffle a walk. Enjoying his relief,
  210. Ray took a seat at last and began rehearsing the indignant questions he would ask.
  211. "Now look here," he called out, "what the hell's the idea — ?" But there he stopped,
  212. terrified. He was staring at something out of'a nightmare. The man hadn't a face, just
  213. eyes like a couple of blackcurrants, and nothing else — no mouth, no nose, no ears. In
  214. his terror Ray huddled into his seat and shut his eyes tight, hoping feverishly that the
  215. lard-faced monster wouldn't stop, even to put a finger on him, but would go shuffling
  216. past him. And this indeed he did, so that when Ray risked opening his eyes he was
  217. alone again. That was something, and what happened next was better still. At last the
  218. train was slowing down. There must be a station soon — certainly not Golders Green
  219. — but whatever the station was, however far it might be from Hendon Central, it was
  220. where he would get out of this nightmare train.
  222. He caught glimpses of an enormous packed platform. As soon as the train stopped
  223. he reached the door, but even then it was too late. He was swept back by a solid mass
  224. of people, who pushed and shoved like maniacs and closed round him so that he
  225. couldn't move and felt he could hardly breathe. And what people! All the faces he'd
  226. ever looked away from, disgust blotting out compassion, seemed to be here, and the
  227. train was already moving again. He felt he was hemmed in by ulcers, abscesses, halfblind
  228. eyes, rotting noses, gangrenous mouths and chins. And how far, how long? Even
  229. out of the depths of his nausea, he'd have to say something.
  231. He put his question to the face nearest to him, a twisted slobbery caricature of a
  232. face, but all he got in reply was a senseless gabble.
  234. "No use asking him," a voice said over his shoulder. "He's forgotten how to talk.
  235. What you want to know?" The voice belonged to a bull of a man with a face like a
  236. volcanic eruption.
  238. "Where —" and it was a shaky question, "where are we going?"
  240. "Where we going?" the bull roared. "We're not going anywhere, you silly sod."
  241. Now he roared louder still. "Time to push around, shove about, all you bastards!"
  242. Ray found at his elbow an old creature whose nose and chin nearly met: she could
  243. have been a witch out of an ancient fairy tale. "I'll tell you where you're not going,
  244. young man," she said, cackling and spitting. "He-he-he! You're not going to Rio in
  245. Brazil. Not now and not ever. He-he-he!"
  247. His heart turning into ice-water, he understood at last that he might never know
  248. anything again except this underground journey to nowhere, wedged beyond any
  249. chance of escape among these malicious jeering monstrosities...
  251. ***
  253. ... "Full name's Raymond Geoffrey Aggarstone, but liked to call himself just Ray,"
  254. said the first man. "Got that? Okay. Now — effects. Silver cigarette case, inscribed
  255. Darling Ray from his loving Cherry ... Posh lighter... Diary, gold pencil, three fivers
  256. and four pound notes in small notecase in one inside pocket..."
  258. "Not too fast," said the second man. "And what about trousers pockets — keys and
  259. change and all that?"
  261. "Come to them in a minute,, chum," said the first man. "And if I'm going too fast,
  262. why ask for more? Wallet in right inside pocket. ... Contains credit cards, two letters,
  263. and something from Air France —"
  265. "Hold it! Yes, sir?" But this query was addressed to the new arrival. He was a tall
  266. man, with a long chin and sharp grey eyes, and he was obviously top brass authority,
  267. not the kind of bloke to be asked what he was doing there and where was his warrant
  268. card.
  270. "I'll take the two letters," this tall man said pleasantly but with assured authority.
  271. "Not needed for the next of kin. I must look at that Air France booking too. Thank
  272. you!" He examined it, took out a pen and made an alteration. "Yes, As I thought.
  273. There's a mistake here. Should have been Nice not Rio. Here you are, ready for the
  274. next of kin, but I'll keep the two letters, they'd only bewilder a couple of miserable
  275. women." He gave the two men a sombre look. "You know, this is a world where the
  276. guilty all too often go unpunished and the innocent are increasingly victimized,
  277. robbed, ruined, maimed or murdered."
  279. "That's true enough, sir," said the first man. "As I've said more than once to the
  280. wife and kids."
  282. "Well, now and again," the tall man told him, "we have the chance to change that.
  283. Just now and again. By the way, what are the facts here?"
  285. "Found unconscious in the Northern Line train at Hampstead, sir. Major heart
  286. attack. Never recovered consciousness. In fact, died in the ambulance, sir. Finish!"
  288. "Thank you! Possibly finish — possibly not. We don't know, do we? Goodnight!"
  289. And he left them so quickly, he might almost have vanished, a trick some of these top
  290. blokes seem to have mastered.
  292. J. B. Priestley
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