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Big Talk


Alf was no psychiatrist, but it was easy to figure out a guy who was always boasting about all the women in his life.

WHEN Gil Bratcher, the photographer, first came on the night shift, he told Alf Sweeney, the reporter, "We'll get along all right, Sweeney. Just don't go around covering flophouse cuttings. I hate them scabby winos. And stay out of fag joints. I hate them swishes even worse than the bottle babies. They make me sick in the gut." On each shift, from his first one four nights ago, he usurped the wheel of the radio car and clung to it with his huge, meaty hands until morning. "I'll tell 'em where they can stuff it if they think I'll stay on this damned night shift," he said.

The city — lying beyond the car like a smoked-out cigar butt, stale and dead — was wholly without compassion. Only in tomorrow's headlines would the crimes and accidents and domestic tragedies of the night assume color and depth and the breath of life.

As if in answer to some obscure problem he had been silently considering, Gil announced emphatically, "They ought to put all them pansies and winos on an island out in the Pacific somewhere, and then drop one of them hydrogen bombs on 'em. Blast their damned guts halfway across the ocean."

The emotionless voices from the police radio murmured above the monotonous rhythm of the motor.

"You agree?" Gil demanded.

Alf Sweeney spat through the window. "I thought you were going to get off the night shift," he said.

"I'll get off it. Give me time."

Alf shrugged heavily. "I've been on it for two years."

The collar of the white shirt Gil had worn for three shifts was unbuttoned beneath his crudely knotted tie. Above damp lips, his tiny eyes were heavy. During conversations, he scrutinized defiantly the texture of the speaker's skin, the movement of the speaker's lips, the pulsing of the breath in the speaker's nostrils. When he entered unfamiliar buildings, his dark eyes darted about suspiciously, marking out avenues of retreat in the event he were set upon by superior force.

When the "woman screaming" call came over the radio, the photographer grunted, "Want it?" His tone was surly. His face was bloated from lack of sleep.

Alf, the reporter, was watching the darkened buildings flow past from shadows and silence into shadows and silence. He wore a green sports jacket over a solid blue sports shirt. On his bony, loose-jointed frame, the jacket seemed no better than a hand-...

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