The citywide businessmen’s meeting had concluded, and now some of the officials from some of the businesses were granting brief interviews to interested members of the press in small individual rooms.

Gordon Devere, of Devere Enterprises, and his two “right-hand” men, Wendell and Harry, seated on either side of him, were fielding questions from about a dozen reporters who had shown an interest in asking about their business empire. At first, the three didn’t even see the nervous young “reporter” who eased himself into the back of the room, pad and pen in hand. It wasn’t until the newcomer had sidled past a number of his “colleagues” that he was noticed at all, and then only by the ones into whom he’d bumped, and who now glared at him and jostled him back out of the way.

Wendell caught the slight jockeying for position out of the corner of his eye, instantly recognized the young man who’d caused it, worked to suppress a startled expression, and nudged his boss. Devere followed his gaze and sat up straighter, just as another much taller reporter turned to fuss at the intruder. But the interloper paid no attention to the reporter whom he’d most recently annoyed, because now his eyes and Devere’s met and held.

When Devere suddenly stopped speaking in mid-sentence, the young man softly inquired, “May I speak with you, please? When this interview session is over.”

Misunderstanding, another reporter frowned and barked at him, “No exclusives!”

“No,” Buddy Overstreet agreed, by now close enough to pitch his pad and pen onto the mobsters’ table, which he did, his subterfuge as a reporter at an end. “Not an interview. This is private.”

Devere put up a hand at the protesting reporters. “It’s all right. He’s right; it’s private.” Then, to Buddy, he invited, “Sit here by Wendell until this interview session is finished, and then we’ll talk.”

Buddy complied, with Devere, Wendell, and Harry all three staring at him. He sat quietly and stared motionlessly at his lap.

After about ten more minutes, Devere announced the end of the interview session, and the reporters left.

Buddy still hadn’t moved, and after Harry closed the door for privacy, the three continued to stare at him.

“I must say, this is truly a surprise,” stated Devere.

Buddy now looked up at him, his expression resigned. “I suppose.”

“Why would you come to us?”

“I surrender.”

“You….” Devere could scarcely imagine how to complete the thought.

Buddy’s entire demeanor was lackluster and listless. “I’ll go with you, do whatever you want. I’m ready to just get it over with.”

“Why??” Wendell couldn’t resist asking. “You know we’re going to….”

“Yes,” Buddy interrupted quickly, not wanting him to finish that sentence.

“You’ve…given up on life?” Harry speculated tentatively.

The younger fellow nodded slowly.

“Tell us about it,” Harry urged.

“It’s a couple of things. I’m tired of running all the time, of never being able to stay put. I’m very tired of being terrified all the time, of panicking every time I see a black car, especially a limo. And I’m frantically afraid that you’ll someday manage to shoot me while I’m trying to run away, and that I’ll be hurt but not killed, and that I’ll have to lie there and suffer horribly until you catch up and finish me. Whereas if we do this under controlled conditions, I’m hoping that you’ll be able to make it painless.”

Wendell and Harry both nodded readily. “Easily,” they admitted.

“Is that all?” Devere prompted.

“No, sir. Also, …I…met a girl.”

His three listeners looked even more puzzled.

“I knew that I was falling in love. And then I realized that I didn’t dare. I would never be able to marry and stay put with her. And, by getting her involved with me, I’d put her in danger, too, and she didn’t deserve that. So, I ran from her, too, for her own safety.” His tone dropped even lower. “And then I got to thinking that I could never have any kind of normal life, and that all I’d ever be able to do would be to run and be scared all the time. What kind of life is that, uh? It’s not life; it’s just existence. I’m tired of it. And I’m just plain tired.”

“I’m sorry, kid,” Wendell said softly.

Buddy shrugged. “And don’t worry; I didn’t tell the girl anything. You don’t need to be concerned about her.”

Devere nodded acknowledgement at that.

Harry commented, “This is very…brave of you.”

He shook his head. “No, it’s very cowardly of me; I’m not brave enough to keep enduring all of this. I have a feeling that this is one of those cases where the fear is worse than the reality. If, that is, you really are willing to be merciful and quick.” He now gazed up at them with thinly-veiled anxiety.

“Of course we are,” assured Wendell.

“We have no reason to want to hurt you,” Harry agreed.

Buddy slowly nodded. “Then, I just have one weird ‘last request,’ if you’re willing to grant it.”

“If we can,” marginally agreed Devere.

Buddy looked to Wendell.

“What is it, kid?”

“I’ve always felt…in an odd sort of way…that you and I…kind of like each other. Would you…near when the time comes…pretend you’re my big brother or something and…hold me?”

Wendell’s heart warmed and almost broke simultaneously. “Sure, kid.”

“Thanks. I’m really badly frightened, and I think it’ll help.”

“Then I’d be very glad to.”

True to his word, Buddy Overstreet obediently accompanied the three men to their waiting limousine, and cooperatively entered with them. As soon as the car left the city for the nearby desert, and there would be no further concern about onlookers, Wendell turned and gently, voluntarily took Buddy into his arms, and held him in a kind, brotherly embrace. Buddy cried ever so softly into Wendell’s shoulder, but made no attempt to scream or struggle or change his mind.

Once deep in the desert, the car ultimately drifted to a stop, and Harry almost reluctantly announced, “We’re here.”

Buddy’s head rose, his gaze bleary, tear-filled, but his attitude resigned and accepting.

However, the one who was suddenly not accepting was Devere himself.

“Helicopter,” he exclaimed tensely, ducking his head to look skyward through the back window. “Could be a cop. We just can’t know. And in any case, it’s a witness. Driver, keep moving!”

“Now what?” wondered Wendell, as the driver obeyed.

“We’ll have to try another time,” Devere stated matter-of-factly.

“What about the kid?”

“We’ll just have to keep him with us, until we can try again.” Devere shrugged fatalistically.

Buddy allowed his head to collapse back onto Wendell’s shoulder. The latter held and patted him for many miles.

When they reached the Devere building, Wendell and Harry escorted him to a vacant apartment within the complex, saying apologetically, “We have to lock you in. Sorry. We can’t take a chance on you changing your mind and running.”

“That’s okay,” said Buddy mildly. “I understand. But, …has anybody got a tranquilizer?”

“Sure thing.” They obtained one for him promptly.

Buddy took it and slept.


The next morning, Devere summoned Buddy Overstreet to his office, and suggested trying again to get the young man’s horror over with, but it was Wendell who nixed the idea.

“It’s a holiday, boss. It’s the Fourth of July.”

“Oh yeah, that’s right.” Devere sagged in annoyance.

“There’ll be an air-show out in the desert, and then fireworks later.”

“Yes, yes, I recall now.”

“Not exactly in our deep-six-zone, but close enough.”

“I remember, I remember!” the boss fumed, nearly losing his temper at the repetition.

Buddy sighed deeply. It was going to be a long day.


The following morning, it was Buddy who went to Devere first. “Can we get it over and done with today, please, sir?”

“I don’t see why not,” the boss agreed.

“I do,” interjected Harry. “Yesterday’s festivities left a monstrous mess out there, and masses of both public and private groups are out cleaning it all up. It’ll likely take them all day.”

“Oh for the…!” Devere rubbed at his forehead in aggravation.

Buddy Overstreet didn’t look any happier.


The day after that, when Buddy again went to them with his odd request, all three of the Syndicate men shook their heads at him dismally.

“They found our pit,” Harry told him flatly.

“Your what?”

“The place where we ditch the bodies.”

Buddy turned nearly green and sank into the nearest chair.

Wendell explained a bit more gently, “One of the clean-up crews from the Fourth found it. It’s an old abandoned well left over from the days of the Old West, whose ghost town later got removed by a tornado.”

Devere continued, “It’s unlikely that they’ll be able to trace the victims to us. But on the other hand, it’ll be a long time before we can ever use it again.” He sighed. “We’ll have to keep our noses clean for quite a while. I certainly hope there won’t be anyone we absolutely have to rub out now, for some time.”

Buddy asked plaintively, “But what about me???”

Wendell couldn’t help grinning at the younger fellow’s wording.

Devere appeared pensive for long moments. “Overstreet….” Then he softened slightly. “Buddy….”

“Yes, sir?”

Devere asked carefully, “You’re never really going to rat on us, are you?”

“No, sir. I told you I never would.”

“In this business, usually we can’t afford to trust anyone. But maybe in this case, the safer bet would be to trust you.”


Then the boss seemed to decide. “Get out of here. Marry your little girlfriend. Have kids. Have a normal life.”

Buddy could scarcely believe what he’d heard. He made no move to rise.

“Go on. We’re letting you go.”

The no-longer-a-victim rose as slowly as sap in winter. He backed gradually toward the door. “You won’t…change your mind??”

“Not as long as you don’t change yours.”

Buddy looked as if he were walking in a dream as he continued to back away from them. Just as he turned toward the doorknob, Wendell called after him, “And kid?”

He turned back to face them again. “Yes, Wendell?”

“Drop us a postcard now and then. Let us know how you’re doing.”

Buddy managed a faint smile. “I will.”


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