Leroy Yerxa – One-Way Ticket to Nowhere

“Jeff Blake!” Holly O’Toole’s knotted hand reached out and grasped the right hand of the passenger descending from the rocket transport. “This is a hell of a night to come home, when a man’s been away as long as you have.” Jeff Blake laughed, and swung down to his side to stand on the wind- and rain-swept dock. He towered above O’Toole, lanky and smooth skinned. His face was tanned a deep brown from space travel and little wrinkles curled out from the corners of his mouth. Wrinkles that indicated a willing smile. There was a cheerful warmth of sincerity in his voice. “Weather doesn’t seem to bother me much any more. I’ve been in and out of a lot of it. This rain isn’t much compared to those space turn-overs we’ve had around moon the last few weeks.” They walked together toward the lighted office. Once inside, Holly O’Toole tossed his coat across the warm elector-rad heater and turned admiring eyes on Jeff Blake’s tall frame. “They sure made a man of you in space service,” he said. “The last time you left Hope you were a half-baked kid with a yen for a ray gun.” O’Toole sat back comfortably as Blake removed his jacket and threw it over the heater.

Blake was hard, and yet as Holly watched him, there seemed to be a touch of softness in his eyes that hadn’t been there when Blake was a kid. A little more of Wade Blake, maybe. When two men were born identical twins, they were bound together in a lot of odd little ways. The faintest suggestion of a bitter smile started across Jeff Blake’s young face. Then he relaxed, sat down. Lighting a cigarette he sucked deeply and let the smoke drift from his lips. “The last time I saw you, O’Toole, you were a little red-headed Irishman who stirred up more trouble than my brother and I could get out of in a month. What is it now?” Holly O’Toole’s dark face grew concerned. At once Blake knew his trip would be interesting. Knew that the trouble he had been expecting was close at hand. “It’s your brother, Wade,” O’Toole went on. “Wade’s in hot water again, and he’s in over his head.” That same sardonic smile flitted across Blake’s face, and faded immediately. O’Toole was under a terrific strain. The man was only forty-five, yet the once brilliant battle flag of red hair had grown thin in spots.

His eyes, once clear and snapping, were a washed-out blue. “Go on,” Blake said kindly. “When I got your message it wasn’t easy to drop everything and come. I expected something like this.” O’Toole stared at him, hating to say what he knew he had to. “Wade is planning to marry Dauna Ferrell.” “Dauna?” Blake was plainly puzzled. “Why, Dauna was a tow-headed brat when I left Earth. But if Wade wants her, why not?” O’Toole shook his head a little impatiently. “It isn’t that he wants her,” he said. “I can’t explain everything now. Let’s just say that Wade is giving up every chance he’ll ever have of owning the ‘Hope to Horn’ line. He’s stirring up trouble between Dauna and her father and making a dangerous ass of himself in the bargain.” Blake flicked the long ash from his cigarette. “He must be a busy man,” he admitted.

“But where do I fit into this puzzle?” Holly O’Toole was plainly bewildered. “I wish I knew,” he admitted. “I can’t handle every angle alone, and if some changes don’t come in a hurry, Wade, Dauna and Walter Ferrell will lose everything they have, including their sanity. You’re the only man who can pound any brains into Wade’s head. I figured you might be willing to try it, before it’s too late.” He stood up rather stiffly, drew his belt up over his rounded paunch. Blake watched him with narrowed, speculative eyes. O’Toole looked at his watch. “Where is Wade now?” Blake asked. “At South Station since last night,” O’Toole said. “Does he know I’m on Earth?” O’Toole looked doubtful. “I’m afraid he does,” he admitted. “I sent your radio-wave last week and he was in the office at the time. I can’t explain why, but I have the feeling he checked up after I left and found out who I had radioed.” Blake followed O’Toole to the door, drew on his heavy coat.

“Let’s get it over with,” he shrugged his shoulders. “I’ve had to take Wade in hand a couple of times. Once more won’t do any harm. We’ll go to South Station.” O’Toole hesitated. He had something else to get off his chest. “Jeff,” he spoke gravely. “It’s only fair to tell you that being Wade’s twin may get you into some pretty heavy trouble.” Jeff grinned queerly. “Good!” he said. “I sort of like the stuff.” The door slammed behind them and the light from the single window faded against the dark field. A swift shadow of a man darted from between the empty space docks. The stranger’s arm went high and jerked straight. A wicked knife flicked from the steeled fingers.

It missed Blake’s neck by inches; struck the heavy door behind him. Blake took two swift steps forward, realized the man was already lost in the night. He stopped and pivoted. O’Toole had already jerked the knife from the door, was staring at it with tight lips. “Playful bunch of goons you’ve got around here,” Blake said mirthlessly. “I’m afraid that’s some of the trouble I mentioned,” O’Toole replied. “I told you Wade is stirring up a pack of trouble and I’m afraid you’re dropping right into the middle of it.” He held the knife out toward Blake and the younger man took it. “My brother must have changed a lot since I saw him last. Ten years ago he spent most of his time playing the violin and raising flowers.” “Still does,” O’Toole answered in a far-off voice. “But he has a few other hobbies now. Games that he’s learned to play too well for his own good.” Blake was studying the knife that had missed his head. He ran a thumb lightly over the razor edge of the weapon.

“Games that you play with knives?” O’Toole nodded. “Unless I’m greatly mistaken,” he answered grimly. “That nice little fellow who tossed the bread knife at you is one of Grudge Harror’s play boys.” “Now,” Blake said, “we’re getting some place. Who is Grudge Harror and what’s he got against Wade?” “I’ll try to tell you what I know of Harror while we’re on our way to make that next mono-train,” O’Toole said. He took another quick glance at his watch. “She pulls out in half an hour, so keep away from lights and let’s get to the station before we miss her.” They went out of the fenced space-field, bending double against the storm. For several minutes O’Toole led Jeff Blake through deserted streets. Reaching the lighted dome that was the Hope MonoTerminal, he explained. “Grudge Harror,” he said, “is the leader of a gang of cut-throats who have been holding up and wrecking trains from here to the border. He’s got Walter Ferrell on the verge of bankruptcy. If something doesn’t happen soon to stop him, the Hope to Horn [1] line will fold up like a busted spacekite.” “And Wade?” Blake questioned. “Where does he fit in the picture?” “Ferrell depended on Wade to track Harror down and tear his gang apart.

You mentioned that Wade liked to raise flowers. Well! Thus far, he’s still at it. So for six months Harror has torn the business apart, train by train.” Blake looked through the great entrance into the warmly lighted Mono-Terminal. It was nearly deserted. “It’s a rotten shame that a cheap bunch of punks have spoiled a business as fine as Walter Ferrell’s mono line,” he said slowly. “It looks as though he has picked the wrong man for the job of getting Grudge Harror. Maybe we can do something about it.” Holly O’Toole whacked him heartily across the back. “I knew you’d say that, Jeff.” Something of the old fight was coming back into the Irishman’s eyes. “I’ll admit I’m stumped, but maybe with your help… .” The mammoth dome of Hope’s mono terminal was glowing warmly under a rainbow of fluorescent light, when Blake and O’Toole entered the rotunda. Crowds jostled toward the open gates that led to the V-Gaps that held the single-tracked mono train upright when they were at the station docks. They followed down the long ramp to the dock and waited.

A mono train scraped slowly around the V-Gap and stopped. On its blunt, plastic nose a single numeral was printed—6. The train was decorated in a sleek contrast of silver and brown. Inside, porters rushed about making the train ready for its return trip south. Once on board, Blake stretched out and relaxed into deep air cushions. “It’s a good feeling to have some luxury again,” he admitted. He lighted a cigarette from his crushed package and O’Toole accepted another. They watched quietly as a few despondent looking passengers filed in and sat down. A tense undercurrent of feeling was at once evident to Blake’s keen eye. These travelers were here because of necessity. Not for their own pleasure. He was totally unprepared for what happened in the next ten minutes. A girl came in. Before Blake could register surprise, she had uttered a little cry of joy, plunked her smart little body down at his side and thrown her arms around his neck. “Oh! Darling! This is a surprise.

” He felt rich, warm lips press tightly to his own, brown eyes staring lovingly into his. Suddenly the eyes widened in surprised horror and she stiffened. Her fingers went limp against his neck. Her lips tightened. She jumped up and sank limply into the chair opposite him. “Oh!” She blushed profusely. “Oh! Heavens, I thought… .” Blake’s face burned. Blood rushed to his cheeks and emotions he hadn’t felt for years came rushing back into his body. “I—I didn’t expect… .” he started. The girl had collected her wits. “I’m—I’m sorry,” she said. “You look so much like someone I know… .”



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Updated: 12 December 2020 — 20:44

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