Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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MAX BRAND
(FREDERICK SCHILLER FAUST)

5 MINUTES TO 12

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RGL e-Book Cover


Ex Libris

First published in Cosmopolitan, November 1936

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2021
Version Date: 2021-11-06
Produced by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan

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Cover Image

Cosmopolitan, November 1936, with "5 Minutes to 12"



Illustration

Fear crept at Harry Main—fear born of threatened murder.



Can a man run away from his fate?
Here is the story of one who tried.




AT eight in the morning New York streets are empty, and Harry Main want fast ail the way uptown to Carrick's apartment house, the big motor of his car running to a smooth whine. He kept leaning forward over the wheel, grasping the top of it, and it was hard to tell from his face whether he was in a desperate hurry or simply a fast driver by habit, for his expression was eager though his eye was glazed with fat. There had been a time when be was as lean as his old friend Carrick; now Harry Main looked a bit of a pig.

When he reached the address, he pressed the bell button at Carrick's door torn times and listened to the hollow buzzing begin and end inside the place. He had time for one sick moment of doubt before Carrick himself pulled the door open. It was early September and quite warm, but Carrick was wearing flannel pajamas. Carrick was a fellow who took care of himself.

Main walked in, saying. "Dive into your clothes. Were taking a trip."

"How far?" asked Carrick, yawning till his eyes disappeared. He had a thin, rather hard face that kept him looking an invincible thirty for a dozen years; then time had overtaken him in a wave and washed him gray. "Walt a minute. This is the fourth, isn't it? We're dining together tonight, aren't we?"

"We're taking a trip," answered Main. "South. I guess. Till midnight. Get into your things, Steve."

"A little thing like a full day and six appointments at the office—a little thing like that doesn't matter?" asked Carrick.

Main stared at him

"All right," said Carrick suddenly. "I'll just step under the shower——"

"For God's sake, jump into your clothes and come!" shouted Harry Main.

Carrick looked at him for two long seconds until he saw the little quiver of nerves in his lips and cheeks. Then he began to unbutton his pajama coat. "I'll jump," he said.

Main went over to a dark corner and sat down. He gripped his two hands together, bent his head, and waited with a deep hunger to have the road slipping away beneath the wheels of his car at sixty or seventy an hour. Fear crept out around him from the shadowy corners of the room.

When he looked up, the face of his wife was looking at him from a picture on the wall. He half rose. He wanted to ask Carrick how the devil that picture happened to be hanging there. Then, breathing deeply, relaxing, he realized that no one had a greater right to have a picture of Clara Main.

The memory of the wedding day returned to Harry Main. The cold that had been in his heart then seemed the lineal ancestor of the fear that was within him now. Steve Carrick, his fine, dark. Norman face imperturbably calm, had been a rock of strength, arranging everything, checking everything, putting a reassuring grip on Main's arm just before the ceremony. "You're getting the loveliest girl in the world," Steve had said. In fact, she had not been lovely. The photograph on the wall proved that. There was only a certain youth and that sweetness which benumbs the mind of a lad.

On the wedding day, it had been a relief to surrender all arrangements of details to Carrick; It was an even mightier relief now to be near him. But then it came over Harry Main that he was sitting still—in New York—and New York was a trap!

"Steve! Steve!" he shouted.

"Ready, old fellow," said the quiet voice of Carrick. And they went down to the car at once.


TEN minutes later they went through the tunnel and out on Route Number One, heading south. They turned onto Route Twenty-five where it diverges and heads towards Camden to avoid the great tangle of Philadelphia. When they were on the Pennsville-Newcastle Ferry, Main said softly, "Have you got a gun?"

"A gun?" asked Carrick. He laughed.

"Here: take this one," said Main. He passed over a blunt chunk of automatic.

Carrick weighed it, put it away in his clothes. "But what the devil, Harry?"

"I've got another." answered Main. "I'll tell you later on. I'll show you, I mean. Wait till we get through Baltimore."

The road began to soar over the Maryland hills, and Main took the rises so fast that the car lilted to the top of the springs at every summit. They twisted slowly through Baltimore traffic, then opened out on the Washington Pike. Main picked some papers out of his pocket and passed them out.

"They're in order," he said.

The first one read,


My dear Main, I want to give you a month so you'll have a chance to think over what a blackguard you are. On September fourth, I'm going to drop around and wipe you out.


There was no signature beneath the typewriting. The second message ran, under the date of August twentieth,


My dear Harry, in a couple of weeks I'll be seeing you. With a gun.


And the third slip was simply,


My dear Harry Main, tomorrow is the day.


"Ah, but look here!" said Carrick. "You don't mean to say that a practical Joke like that has you on the run?"

The pink jowls of Harry Main wabbled as be shook his bead. He said, "It's not a practical Joke. Jokers have more fun. They don't cut their letters so short. It's murder. Steve."

"I wonder if you're not right," answered Carrick. "What beats me is why? You've had your fun, Harry. That's all. Why should anybody want to blow you down?"

"Its Clara. It couldn't be anything but Clara. People think she's sweet because she's so quiet. They don't know. It takes ten years of living with her to find out what ahe's like. You know her a little, though you never came around much after the marriage. Before that I used to think that yon wanted Clara.

"You never could stand her, I suppose. Only you're so damn polite. Nobody can find out what you really think of things."

"I don't think so much," said Carrick. "But what was the matter with Clara? Pretty hard on you behind the closed doors?"

"Bah!" said Harry Main. "You take a woman that always thinks she knows. I mean, a girl that don't have to ask questions. I mean, that just bows her head to one side and is a little sad—I never could stand church music, Steve—you take after a few years, I couldn't go to her. I couldn't trust her. I stuck it out ten years before I gave her the gate."

"I wasn't surprised," said carrick.

"You mean you expected me to run her out?"

"I wasn't surprised," said Carrick.

"Sure you weren't. You knew that the damned sad look she carried around with her was driving my friends away. I used to say: 'For God's sake, loosen up and try to shake out a smile once in a while. I can get along without any of your face but my friends get fed up with the look of you.' But I couldn't change her. She should have been an early Christian martyr. She was nineteen centuries out of date. Suppose I stepped out at night, she'd be waiting up for me... Well, she's gone now."

"Where is she now?" asked Carrick.

"I don't know. I don't give a damn. I wanted to fix her up with alimony. She acted as though my money was green goods, and wouldn't touch it."

"Harry, suppose she still loved you?"

"Loved me? Hell, Steve, I tell you there's nothing but cold poison behind that face of hers. And she's fixed it with this letter-writer. She's sure as hell fixed it with him to do me in today."

"You don't think she'd be behind a thing like that, Harry?"

"She'd be behind anything. People that don't talk pile up a head of steam. When it busts open, you never can tell."


THEY reached the edge of Washington and stopped for gas and hot-dogs. Carrick said. "Anyway, were two hundred and forty miles from Manhattan. Going to put up In Washington?"

"Here?" said Main. "My God, Steve, Washington isn't a quarter of a second by wire from New York."

"This business has got you," said Carrick.

They drove through Washington,


VIRGINIA roads were good; but Harry Main made them smoother with speed. It was seven o'clock and the Richmond lights had begun to shine. Blue silence was sifted over the countryside as they shot onto the Petersburg road.

The trees along the way jumped into the headlights, whirled past them; the stars followed calmly through the sky for all their speed.

"I'll take a nap." said Carrick, as they reached the good Carolina roads.

He slumped down and put his head back. Harry Main flashed a glance at him from time to time.


AND after dizzy hours of that speed Main pushed the fat of his elbow into Carrick's lean ribs. Carrick sat up with a grunt. There was a moon. It showed a ragged ses of mountains to the west.

"Were getting close to Southern Pines," said Main, "but we don't want to make It before midnight."

"Listen, Harry," said Carrick. "You've got hundreds of miles between you and New York. Put your nerves to bed and let them sleep awhile, will you?"

Main swerved the car onto a narrow lane and drove into the quiet of the back-country, stopping in an open wood of second-growth pine. The moon gilded the tops of the trees and poured black tar under them. Carrick got out and stretched. He rested his left elbow on the edge of the door and dropped his right hand into a pocket.

"I never knew a day could be so long," said Carrick. "Have you driven outside of the fourth of September, Harry?"

"There's only ten minutes to go to safety." said Main,

"You think the fellow who wrote these letters will have to keep to his timetable or give you up?" asked Carrick.

"The cold-blooded sort of a devil who wrote those letters," said Harry Main, "would stick to his timetable or die. That's his game, to be precise. That's his dirty sport. There's not seven minutes left, though. Unless he's taken a plane—unless he's going to bomb us out of the air, I guess there's nobody near me but old Steve Carrick. Nobody but——"

He stopped. A bubbling sound came out of his throat. He gripped the wheel with both hands. And then a whisper came from his lips, "It's you! Oh, my God, Steve! You're the man!"

Carrick laid the barrel of the automatic on the edge of the door. "In the pinch, I knew you'd come running to me." he said. "But how could I guess that you'd drive six hundred miles or so to find a perfectly secluded spot for me."

He lifted the gun with a steady hand and pointed it into the soggy white of Main's face. "It's only five minutes to twelve, so I can still be on time," said Carrick. "Afterwards, she'll be the only person in the world to mourn for you."


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.