Allen Sargent is taking a bus trip. He is killing time by profiling the other passengers. There is the short bald guy with the cigar who must be a salesman; the poorly-dressed country woman who had probably been working in the fields since she was six; the hard-faced blonde lush who had called the driver “baby”; the hard-boiled gangster with the scar who seemed scared; and “on the back seat, a negro sat alone.”
Well, ya can’t accuse him of racial profiling. Sargent doesn’t even bother to come up with a story for him. He’s like Franklin in Peanuts — just the black guy.
There is also a priest, an old shaggy-haired hobo type, the driver and Sandra Bullock. OK, just a pretty girl — which I gotta think is a rarity for bus travel — but I re-watched Speed just before reading this. Sargent thinks, “With her to look at, this trip might not be so bad.”
As he is drooling over Sandra, the old man jumps up in the aisle and proclaims, “It’s death! Death and sin! They are riding with us, and they shall strike; they shall kill us all because someone here has sinned against man and God!” Sargent sits him down and gallantly inserts himself in the seat beside Sandra.
The guy might have been crazy, but he was right — minutes later, the salesman lets out a scream and keels over dead. The driver says he will stop in Perry Corners and alert the police.
The “negro” stands and flashes a gun. He says, “I’m Pete Meadows. They’re looking for me in Minneapolis for a couple of bank robberies.” He clearly wants to avoid the cops, but he doesn’t seem to get the concept of laying low. He might as well have shouted out his home address and Social Security Number while he was at it.
The old man shouts about sin and death again, and this time the country woman drops dead.
The driver begins going too fast. When Meadows complains, the driver lets out a maniacal, “laughter from hell!” When he turns, he is sporting the face of a cartoon devil — triangular face, V-shaped eyebrows, pointed ears — signifying true evil, the pit of Hell, vile pestilence; or deviled ham.
Meadows tries to shoot the driver, but he is the next to drop dead, clawing at his throat, tearing bloody flesh from his neck. The driver next turns his attention to the hard-faced blonde. She begs for time to make a confession to the priest, and the driver generously gives her 2 minutes. This guy must have had the buses running on time because he kills her 2 minutes later. And then the scar-faced man.
But there is a nice twist, and the things turn out to have not been so supernatural after all. A pretty good yarn.
I look forward to the sequel, Satan Pulls the Train.
- First published in Ace Detective Magazine, October 1936.
- Also that month: First commercial flight from US to Hawaii.
- Pointless Duplication: The bank robber was named Pete Meadows. And the guy pretending to be a priest was also named Pete? Why?