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Atom Boy

By Ray Cummings

Retired and rusticating Pete McLean, former policeman, sees something new in crime-fighting in a rural setting!

MY NAME'S Pete McLean, and I've been mixed up in a few gunfights in my time as a member of the police force in a big city. But when a fellow gets to be seventy, even though he's still hale and hearty, the idea of taking things easy is pretty attractive.

So I retired and brought my granddaughter Effie along to this quiet little Vermont place. Effie, who is twenty-three, was married at twenty, and after about a year she had to call it quits. After her divorce, she came back to me; so she was in the mood, too, for peace and quiet.

You can rusticate grand up here with the Green Mountains all around. If that's what you want. It came hard for me, at first. You know, the captain of a precinct in a big city gets used to action.

The nearest village is Hewlett Corners, hidden from us behind a hill. There's nothing here but woods, a field, a brook, and an undulating white stretch of highway with our little house beside it. It didn't take me long to discover that farming wasn't in my line. I had to do something, so this being one of the main highways through Rutland, I put in a little gas station. The new cars were all coming in now; there was quite a bit of traffic and I did nicely.

It was a Saturday, about sundown. Hot as blazes. It had been a busy afternoon and I was glad when it began to slacken up a bit. I was seated on a stool in front of the little service room behind the gas pump. The house is about a hundred feet to one side, with a white picket fence and tiny garden between it and the road. Effie was there, getting supper.

A car came around a curve from the direction of Hewlett Corners. It slackened, turned into the driveway and pulled up in front of me. It was a big open car, one of the flashy kind, with a New York tag. The back seat was empty; three young fellows sat in front.

"Hiya, grandpop," the driver said.

"What'll you have?" I asked, getting up.

"Eight gallons. Maybe she'll take ten."

All three of them got out and looked around. There's plenty of their kind in a big city. You know, the slick-haired, wise-guy type, who think they know everything. One of them stood near me at the pump and lighted a cigarette.

"Take it easy," I said. "Watch it."

He grinned, but I didn't.

"Okay, grandpop," he said. He tossed it away.

I gave them eight gallons, checked their oil and tires, and filled the radiator. The driver, a dark- haired, sallow fellow without much chin, handed me a ten-dollar bill. I'd spotted them for the kind that inspires you to give a second look at their money to be sure it isn't phony. This picture of Hamilton looked okay. The slim, smallish driver and one of his companions followed me in to the cash register. This other fellow was a husky lad with a dished-in nose.

Maybe premonitions have som...

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