“The war was rough on a lot of guys,” (Jim) mumbled. “I guess I got no call to bitch. But why couldn’t I have gotten it some other way? I wouldn’t have minded losing an arm or a leg, Doug. You can still be a man with an arm or leg missin’. But not with – “ It gradually dawned on Doug what the hell his brother was talking about. His eyes opened wide. So – now he understood it. He remembered vaguely that Jim had gotten the Purple Heart for being shot in Korea. But now he knew where Jim had been shot.
John Egan adjusted the rifle’s telescopic sight again. It was quite easy to pick out the circle of light from the single lamp over the theatrical announcement plaque. The spot was a good target point. It was ten minutes after eleven and no one was about on the apartment house roof. He had counted eight persons crossing the circle of light. They had all been men. The ninth person was a woman. The white shoes and dress under a dark coat indicated she was a nurse. There was a young couple walking behind her. A policeman turned the corner. When the nurse reached the circle of light her head flew apart.
He sighted on the junction again when he saw a woman and a little girl coming along. The girl was about five years old and wore a pink frilly dress. She was skipping a little ahead of the woman when she reached the junction. At that moment John Egan squeezed the trigger of his rifle. He watched the convulsive sideways jerk as the bullet thudded home. At his distance it appeared as if the child had stumbled. John did not look back until he had broken the sniper rifle down and put it in the trumpet case. When he did look back the woman was on her knees and screaming.
His fist came out from under the windbreaker,wearing something bright, and smashed at the side of my head. My legs forgot about me. I sat on the asphalt against the wall and looked at his armed right fist, a shining steel hub on which the night revolved. His face leaned over me, stark and glazed with hatred: “Bow down, God damn you… Bow down and kiss my feet”
It was a long fall straight down through the darkness of my head. I was a middle-aging space cadet lost between galaxies and out of gas. With infinite skill and cunning I put a grain of salt on the tail of a comet and rode it back to the solar system. My back and shoulder were burned raw from the sliding fall. But it was nice to be home.
“This is for the kid, Murph.” He slammed his fist against the big man’s mouth. There was the sound of crunching teeth. The big man went staggering backward and fell across a table. “You won’t be needing teeth where you’re going.”
I stood there on the corner under a street light just holding the paper while the pieces fell all around me. It was too much. You could only get part of it at a time.
And when I tried to tell them that I couldn’t be suffering from any sense of guilt for killing Madelon Butler because I hadn’t killed her, and not only that but if I had killed her I still wouldn’t feel guilty about it because if I could only get my hands on her I’d gladly strangle her slowly to death right there before a whole courtroom full of people, including standing-room, and even pass out free refreshments if I had the money, it didn’t help any.