by James Hardley Chase

As the aircraft circled Eastonville, Cade could see the pall of smoke covering the north end of the town. He had guessed it would be bad, but he hadn’t imagined it was going to be this bad. The fear that had been gnawing at him during the three-hour flight sharply increased, turning his hands clammy and
slowing his heart beats to painful thuds. He had an overpowering need for yet another drink.

The lighted sign above his head told him to fasten his seat belt and put out his cigarette. He knew without asking that the air hostess wouldn’t bring him another drink now: he had left it too late. He  knew too that she was pretty bored with him. She had already brought him eight double whiskies during the flight, and she had made the journey to the top end of the aircraft where he was sitting with increasing reluctance. Although his tense, frightened nerves screamed for more alcohol, he knew he would now have to force himself to wait until they landed.

There were only two other passengers travelling on this flight. With things the way they were in Eastonville no one unless he had to was visiting this day.

The twenty-odd passengers travelling with Cade from New York had left the aircraft at Atlanta, and these two men had got on: tall, beefy, red-faced men, wearing wide-brimmed panama hats and dusty city suits. They had sat a couple of rows behind him. He had been uneasily aware of their muttered comments as the airhostess kept bringing him drinks. Now, as the aircraft was circling to land, one of them said, ‘Look, Jack, see that smoke? Looks like we’re back in time for the fun.’

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