He began to run.
Yes, yes, he thought tiredly, with the car upon him, how strange, how sad. It sounds so much like . . . a concrete mixer.
* * *
THEY walked slowly down the street at about ten in the evening, talking calmly. They were both about thirty-five, both eminently sober.
“But why so early?” said Smith.
“Because,” said Braling.
“Your first night out in years and you go home at ten o’clock.”
“Nerves, I suppose.”
“What I wonder is how you ever managed it. I’ve been trying to get you out for ten years for a quiet drink. And now, on the one night, you insist on turning in early.”
“Mustn’t crowd my luck,” said Braling.
“What did you do, put sleeping powder in your wife’s coffee?”
“No, that would be unethical. You’ll see soon enough.”
They turned a corner. “Honestly, Braling, I hate to say this, but youhave been patient with her. You may not admit it to me, but marriage has been awful for you, hasn’t it?”
“I wouldn’t say that.”
“It’s got around, anyway, here and there, how she got you to marry her. That time back in 1979 when you were going to Rio——”
“Dear Rio. I neverdid see it after all my plans.”
“And how she tore her clothes and rumpled her hair and threatened to call the police unless you married her.”
“She always was nervous, Smith, understand.”
“It was more than unfair. You didn’t love her. You told her as much, didn’t you?”
“I recall that I was quite firm on the subject.”
“But you married her anyhow.”
“I had my business to think of, as well as my mother and father. A thing like that would have killed them.”
“And it’s been ten years.”
“Yes,” said Braling, his gray eyes steady. “But I think perhaps it might change now. I think what I’ve waited for has come about. Look here.”
He drew forth a long blue ticket.
“Why, it’s a ticket for Rio on the Thursday rocket!”
“Yes, I’m finally going to make it.”
“But how wonderful! Youdo deserve it! But won’tshe object? Cause trouble?”
Braling smiled nervously. “She won’t know I’m gone. I’ll be back in a month and no one the wiser, except you.
Smith sighed. “I wish I were going with you.”
“Poor Smith,your marriage hasn’t exactly been roses, has it?”
“Not exactly, married to a woman who overdoes it. I mean, after all, when you’ve been married ten years, you don’t expect a woman to sit on your lap for two hours every evening, call you at work twelve times a day and talk baby talk. And it seems to me that in the last month she’s gotten worse. I wonder if perhaps she isn’t just a little simple-minded?”
“Ah, Smith, always the conservative. Well, here’s my house. Now, would you like to know my secret? How I made it out this evening?”
“Will you really tell?”
“Look up, there!” said Braling.
They both stared up through the dark air.
In the window above them, on the second floor, a shade was raised. A man about thirty-five years old, with a touch of gray at either temple, sad gray eyes, and a small thin mustache looked down at them.
“Why, that’syou!” cried Smith.
“Sh-h-h, not so loud!” Braling waved upward. The man in the window gestured significantly and vanished.
“I must be insane,” said Smith.
“Hold on a moment.” They waited.
The street door of the apartment opened and the tall spare gentleman with the mustache and the grieved eyes came out to meet them.
“Hello, Braling,” he said.
“Hello, Braling,” said Braling.
They were identical.
Smith stared. “Is this your twin brother? I never knew—”
“No, no,” said Braling quietly. “Bend close. Put your ear to Braling Two’s chest.”
Smith hesitated and then leaned forward to place his head against the uncomplaining ribs.
“Oh no! Itcan’t be!”
“Let me listen again.”
Smith staggered back and fluttered his eyelids, appalled. He reached out and touched the warm hands and the cheeks of the thing.
“Where’d you get him?”
“Isn’t he excellently fashioned?”
“Give the man your card, Braling Two.”