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Claim Your Own Dead

by Ric Hasse

The Samaritan who put Larry Cole aboard the Chicago train and helped him to a hotel room wasn't really a philanthropist. For there was a fee that Larry would have to pay for these kind services—a slight charge of murder.

THE NOSE was a monstrosity. The nose was a nose that Cyrano de Bergerac would have been proud to call his own. It was huge and long, and the end bulged and was full of oversized pores that made it look like an under-ripe strawberry. The sun streaming through the window reflected from one half of the face behind the nose and cast two parallel shadows across the other half; the second shadow created by a big black cigar.

Larry Cole dropped his eyelids again. He screwed up his face and turned his head slowly as far as it would go, to the right, then to the left.

"Our drinking is like our sins," the Nose said. "Sooner or later we must pay for it. Yet, if this Grape be a Curse, Who then put it there, eh?"

Cole opened his eyes again and stared around him and groaned. He was on a moving train. In a coach car. Cole was not in the mood to hear misquotations from Omar Khayyam, not when he was facing the unpleasant consequences of a five-day drinking spree. He frowned at the man in the seat across from him. The Nose grinned around his cigar and dropped a well-manicured hand on Cole's knee.

"How do you feel, m'boy?"

"Lousy," Cole said.

The Nose took the cigar from his mouth and chuckled.

"Don't mind me. Another man's hangover is always good for a laugh."

Larry Cole's frown deepened. He moved his lips and tongue trying to work the dryness out of his mouth. His eyeballs ached. The man with the nose hoisted himself from his seat.

"What you need, m'boy, is a bromo."

He moved down the swaying car and returned with a paper cup of water in each hand. He gave the cups to Cole and poured a one-dose package of activated bromo into one cup. Cole drank the foaming mixture gratefully.

"Do you know how I got on this train? The last I remember, I was talking to a guy in a bar in Washington, D. C. I was telling him about my girl."

"I was there," the Nose chuckled. "Before you passed out, you said you were going to take the next train to Chicago to see her. So, I brought you along with me. You've had a long sleep. We'll be in Chicago in a few minutes."

"My baggage?"

"Your hand bag is on the rack right over you, and here's the baggage check for your duffle bag."

Cole nodded. He hadn't gotten around to buying any luggage yet. All he'd bought so far was a couple of shirts, a pair of shoes, the new grey suit he was wearing, and the binge he'd been promising himself for four years.

"I don't know how to thank you, sir. I know that taking care of a lush is no fun."

The Nose leaned over and touched a shiny fingertip to the gold button on Cole's lapel.

"You deserve anything anyone can do for you, m'boy," he said almost piously. "Say, have you a place to stay when you get to Chicago?"

Cole shook his head.

"I'll get a room in a hotel for a couple of days. Then I think I'll be getting married, unless Julie's changed her mind."

"Well, all the hotels are pretty crowded, but I think I can help you out. I have a reservation at the Parker House, but I have to go on to Milwaukee right away, and won't be using the room. So you go there and use my name. They won't know the difference."

The train was slowing for the Sixty- third Street, Englewo...

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