Friday, August 26, 2016

games, part 11


by harold p sternhagen writing as "ralph desmond"

being a sequel to fun

illustrated by konrad kraus

originally appeared in the july through october 1952 issues of walloping midnight stories magazine

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here





jenny opened the window.

she looked down, into the shadows beneath the pine tree beside the boarding house.

as she suspected, it was rosie who had tossed the pebbles against the window. and did she have someone with her?

jenny didn’t want to shout and attract anybody’s attention in the house, so she just waved to rosie and gave her a thumbs up, to signal that she would come down.


did she really want to see rosie tonight? and talk to - and listen - to her? she wasn’t really in the mood for her, even though she had not been able to sleep and had not been able to concentrate on her book.

as jenny went down the flights of back stairs to the first floor, it occurred to her that it was not surprising that rosie had shown up - she probably wanted jenny to let her in to the cellar, because of the “big storm”.

jenny was looking forward to the “big storm” and hoped it would not turn out to be a false alarm.


jenny had met rosie in the little park by the bainville city hall where she sometimes hung out after school when she was in no hurry to get home.

rosie was one of a rotating crew of derelicts who panhandled in the park and were somewhat tolerated by the local police as long as they did not get too close to the city hall and the respectable citizens did not actually complain about them.

they all had “colorful” names and they all had stories to tell.


“roadster rosie” had the most elaborate stories of all. about half of them were about roosevelt and other famous people who ruled the world - even if they were dead - and were out to get her, rosie.

but the others were descriptions of the life rosie had led when she was younger and rich - really, really rich to hear her tell it - before “they” had it in for her and forced her into a life on the road.

sometime jenny almost believed these stories. almost.


and on a couple of occasions - big snowstorms - jenny had been kindhearted enough to let rosie take shelter in the cellar of the boarding house.

unknown to brenda, of course, who would have had conniptions like captain bligh if she had even suspected.

jenny reached the bottom of the stairs. she was behind the pantry, which was behind the kitchen. a door to the left of the stairs led down to the cellar, and a door directly in front of her opened to the yard on the side of the house. she carefully opened it.

rosie immediately started talking, but in a low voice. “gee thanks, kid, i knew you wouldn’t let me down, not on a night like this.”


“i haven’t said i would, rosie,” jenny answered.

“aww, i was counting on you! you heard about the big storm, right?”

“yes, but it’s not here yet. and keep your voice down.”

“but everybody says it’s coming.” rosie noticed jenny looking at susquehanna sal. “you worried about this bum? hey, i didn’t invite her, she tagged along herself. i told her i couldn’t promise her anything.”


sal looked at jenny with the saddest doggy expression she had ever seen on a human being. and she had seen some sad doggy expressions, on the bums in the park and on the tenants in the boarding house.

jenny decided to let them in, it was better than having brenda hearing her talking to them. she opened the door wider behind her. “all right , come on in, both of you. but keep it down! i think brenda is in the kitchen and she might have someone with her.”


jenny opened the cellar door. there was a naked bulb right above her and she pulled it on. it gave just enough light that they could get down the stairs without breaking their necks.

they reached the bottom of the stairs. rosie and sal looked around.

“there’s no other lights,” jenny told them. “you will have to let your eyes get accustomed to the dark. there are some rugs over there in the corner behind the furnace, so make yourselves at home. “


“yeah, yeah, i remember the setup, kid. hey this is great, real cozy. reminds me of when i was the guest of the czar and czarina in moscow.”

sal laughed.

“what are you laughing at?” rosie asked her, but still keeping her voice down. “that’s gratitude for you, i save your miserable life and you laugh at me. what, you don’t think i was a guest at the kremlin in moscow?”


“moscow idaho maybe. you were in jail in moscow idaho.” sal looked over at jenny. “i haven’t properly introduced myself. my name is susquehanna sal and i am really grateful, honey, you have a heart of gold, you are the five wise virgins in the bible come back to life all at once, i really mean it.”

“say, kid,” rosie asked jenny, “ you wouldn’t happen to have a smoke on you, would you?

“no, rosie, i do not. and i am glad to hear you do not have one yourself. the last thing i want is for you to be burning the place down.”


“oh well, no harm in asking.” rosie had gone over to the pile of rugs behind the furnace and was sorting through them. she tossed a couple over at sal’s feet.

“sorry i can’t offer you anything,” jenny said. “but like i said, i think brenda is still in the kitchen. she’d call the national guard if she knew you were down here.”

“we’re all set here,” rosie assured her.

“then i will leave you to it,” jenny said. she listened, but did not hear anything upstairs.

“aw, stick around, “said rosie. “palaver a little bit. it’s been a while.”

“all right. but just for a little while.”

“what was that?’” asked sal.

they listened.


“raindrops,” said jenny. “the storm must just be starting.”

outside, hal had returned from his walk around the block, and had seen jenny let rosie and sal in.

what was that all about? he wondered.

but he had other things on his mind, and quickly forgot about it.


( to be continued)






Friday, August 19, 2016

games, part 10


by harold p sternhagen writing as "ralph desmond"

being a sequel to fun

illustrated by konrad kraus

originally appeared in the july through october 1952 issues of walloping midnight stories magazine

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here





and in that moment i wondered if there were any power in the world that could keep a man from breaking down when his soul is being smashed into a thousand pieces… “

the professor paused in his story, as he guided the packard on to what seemed to be a main highway.

at least, thought bob, it was more of a main highway than the road he had been walking down and that the professor had picked him up on.

they could see the lights of a few other cars.


they all seemed to be going tin the other direction - east .

east, west, it was all the same to bob.

“where was i?” asked the professor.

“your soul was getting smashed into a thousand pieces,” bob told him.

“of course, of course… by millie… beautiful millie….”

the professor’s thoughts seemed to drift and bob wondered if he was falling asleep and would run them off the road.


but he recovered and resumed his narrative.

“… we got into the old model t and millie started off into the desert.

somehow i kept my eyes on the dirt road and the tumbleweeds blowing across it, when all i wanted to do was turn and gaze and gaze at millie.

‘barry has been so looking forward to seeing you - as of course i have too, charles - especially today.’

‘why today?’ i managed to say, hardly able to hear myself over the sound of my hammering heart.


‘oh - perhaps i am just imagining things - but barry has seemed - just a little bit out of sorts the last couple of days - i am sure it is nothing, really - but your visit should be just the thing to cheer him up!’

barry a little out of sorts? maybe he would drop dead and leave millie to me! not that i seriously wished any such thing, of course, but these are the sort of thoughts that drift through a man’s head when he is being driven mad by impossible passion.


‘perhaps it has something to do with the work he is engaged on?’ i ventured.

‘oh, it is, most definitely,’ millie surprised me by saying. ‘we have run into a few snags on the project.’

we? i thought. but i said, ‘no doubt barry has some sort of crew of scientists working on this with him.’

‘oh no! there is just barry and i working on it .’


barry and i? now i was completely bewildered. millie was working on this project? the millie i knew was the most beautiful, the sweetest, the most wonderful girl in the world but no more a scientist than she was john dillinger or hitler. in fact barry himself was no scientist and i had assumed he was just administering the project and riding herd on the scientists who were actually doing whatever they were doing.

‘but,’ i said, ’surely there were others?’


‘there were,’ millie replied, ‘but they turned out to be a bunch of quitters! who gave up at the first little sign of trouble. and good riddance to them, thats what i say!’

i was completely baffled and resolved to say no more and wait until we reached our destination.

we drove in silence as i tried to find a glimmer of sense in what millie had told me.

‘here we are’ millie announced suddenly, as she stopped the model t.


it was my turn to be astonished anew. “here” was nothing more than a shack - in the proverbial middle of nowhere - with no outbuildings that i could see, let alone the kind of structures i had expected from a hush-hush government project. i had also had a vague notion that there might be soldiers or guards on the premises, but there was no sign of such.

nor was there any sign of barry, though i thought he might have seen or heard us coming.


‘barry must be taking a nap,’ said millie. ‘that’s good, he needs one. ‘ she smiled at me - i was so astonished by the surroundings that i felt hardly a glimmer of the bliss such a smile would have aroused in me a mere fifteen minutes before - and led the way the few feet to the shack.

‘we won’t wake him’, millie said. ‘ i will just get you a nice glass of lemonade. come in, make yourself at home.’

i heard a voice from the shack say ‘i’m awake’.


and then i got the biggest shock of all.”

the professor paused. “look up there,” he said to bob.

lights appeared up ahead.

it was a road block. the professor slowed the packard , and a state trooper stepped out on to the road fifty yards ahead of them and waved them down.

the professor rolled his window down and the trooper, a big farmhand looking fellow who looked like he could carry two cows to market under his arms, approached.


“what’s going on, officer?” the professor asked genially. “has a madman escaped from the asylum? a bunch of desperadoes busted out of the state pen?”

“nothing like that, sir,” the trooper answered with a straight face. “but we are just warning travelers that a big storm is headed this way and may wash out the road up ahead and especially the bridge over the river. so wherever you are going, even if you get there you might not get back any time soon.”


“why thank you, officer,” the professor answered, “but i was quite aware of this no doubt storm of the century. my name is doctor fletcher, by the way, and i am on my way to treat one of the richest men in the world, for a rare disease that i am the world’s greatest authority on. and this is my assistant, perwald. i am sure mister barnes will offer us the full hospitality of his magnificent estate no matter the circumstances.”

the trooper straightened up. “that’s as may be, sir. it is up to you if you wish to proceed.” he pointed to the sawhorses that had been put across the road.. “there is plenty of room there, sir, on the right, to get around the barrier.”


“thank you, officer.”

“good night, sir.” the trooper waved the packard on with his flashlight.

“ha, ha!” exclaimed the professor, as they were past the barricade and speeding up again. “we fooled him! we fooled him good!”


part 11






Friday, August 12, 2016

games, part 9


by harold p sternhagen writing as "ralph desmond"

being a sequel to fun

illustrated by konrad kraus

originally appeared in the july through october 1952 issues of walloping midnight stories magazine

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here





and the wild card was rosie…. drunken rosie, who had seen it all, who had been born in a penthouse and been blown into the gutter… and who knew every trick in the book… or did she?


night had fallen over the jungle.

it was almost deserted. many of the boes had already left because winter was coming on, and most of those who had hung around had cleared out ahead the approaching storm.

the three who were left - the montana kid, susquehanna sal, and roadster rosie - watched a can of beans as it began to bubble over the little fire.

the montana kid was known as the montana kid because he claimed to be from montana, even though he was really from cuyahoga, new york.


susquehanna sal called herself susquehanna sal because she liked the sound of it.

and roadster rosie had earned her moniker because when she was tipsy she often spoke of her childhood when her grandfather had given her rides in his “roadster” . the other bums found this expression quaint and amusing and the name stuck to her.

the beans continued to bubble slowly. the montana kid gave them a stir with a little whittled stick.


“stir ‘em right down to the bottom, “ sal reminded him. “get that heat through the whole can.”

“i know what i’m doing,” the kid mumbled.

sal did not bother to reply.

“it’s quiet,” the kid said after awhile. “too quiet.”

as soon as he said it he regretted it, because his comment seemed to penetrate to rosie, who had been half asleep on the crate she was sitting on.


rosie could go for days without saying anything, but when she did start to talk there was no stopping her.

“quiet?” she said now. “you think this is quiet? you call this quiet?”

“quiet enough,” the kid answered mildly. “like it usually is before a storm.” he looked back toward the highway, which was dark and deserted.

“the kid was just making an observation, like,” sal added. “he didn’t mean no harm.”


“you call this quiet?” rosie went on. “i’ll tell you where it was quiet. it was quiet in frankenstein’s cellar, that’s where it was quiet. you could hear the worms digging their way to china under the earth, it was so quiet in frankenstein’s cellar when roosevelt threw me in there, threw me in there with charles p dawes and al capone and john dillinger because we told the truth about him. you could hear the worms so good in those long dark hours you learned the language of the worms… the language of the worms… that was real quiet, let me tell you…”


“and what was the worms saying?” asked sal.

“look here, get your plates ready because these beans are just about done,” said the kid.

“you sure about that?” asked sal. “you sure you stirred them up good, got the heat all through them?”

“they are hot as they are going to be,” insisted the kid. “hold them plates out if you want some.”


the storm and frankenstein and the language of the worms were forgotten as the kid spooned the beans on to their tin plates and they started shoveling them down their throats.

“hot enough for you?” the kid asked. sal just nodded with her mouth full.

suddenly a gust of wind sprang up.

“lordy, here it is,” exclaimed sal. “maybe i should have caught that freight with maxie and toledo.” she shook her head. “or maybe just not been such a sinner.”


“it ain’t here yet,” said the kid. “plenty of time to finish them beans.”

rosie laughed. “yes, here it is. judgment day, or a reasonable facsimile thereof.” rosie sometimes used words like “facsimile” whose meanings were obscure to her companions, but bums with extensive vocabularies were no rarity on the road, and sal and the kid paid it no mind.

rosie finished her beans. “yes, sir, judgment day is here. too bad it’s not here for those that truly deserve it, like roosevelt and his henchmen.”


“now, rosie,” the kid said. “mister roosevelt is dead and in his grave, these twenty years, leave him in peace.”

“i think it is only five or six years,” put in sal.

“five or ten or twenty, it’s all the same,” said the kid.

“i told you before, roosevelt isn’t dead,” said rosie. “he is just hiding. with his pals hitler and william jennings bryan and carole lombard and the kaiser. when my grandfather was alive he kept those bastards in line … yes, he did…”


another gust of wind came along, shaking the rods the can of beans had been hung on.

rosie took a rag out of her pocket and scooped up some sand and ashes from around the fire and began scouring her tin plate.

the other two finished their beans and started doing the same.

“and i’ll tell you what else,” said rosie.

“what else?” asked sal. “what else, rosie?”


“you two bums can get blown away by this devil’s wind, but i got an ace in the hole. yes, sir, an ace in the hole.”

“you don’t say so,” the kid answered in his mild voice.

“yeah, an ace in the hole. i got a pal, see, who will let me stay with her. a good kid who will take me in. maybe just in her cellar, but she will take me in. while you two bums are having the clothes blown off your miserable carcasses in this tornado or whatever it is.”


“well,” sal ventured, “if this pal is such a pal of yours, maybe she will take in a pal of a pal, if you get my drift.”

rosie stood up. she put her plate and her tin fork in her coat pocket and checked the pockets. “i don’t think so. she’s got class, see, just like i used to have myself. she wouldn’t have any use for the likes of you.”

“it wouldn’t hurt to ask, would it?” sal persisted. “i don’t got no place else to go, let me tag along just in case.”


rosie shrugged. “yeah, you can tag along for all the good it’s going to do you. but i’m not making any promises.”

sal stood up too. “gee thanks, i won’t forget this. you got a good heart, rosie, under… under… you got a good heart, i always said so.”

the montana kid pulled a pint bottle out of his pocket. “you ladies want one for the road?”

“i thought you would never ask, you cheap bastard,” said rosie.


“now is that any way to talk?” asked sal.

“yes, rosie, is that any way to talk?” said the kid. “i think my offer is a generous one, considering you didn’t offer to take me along to your friend’s cellar. but go ahead, take a swig.”

“you hear that, rosie?” sal exclaimed. “you got a heart of gold, kid. i swear you must be john the baptist walking the earth again, if not saint peter himself.”

rosie took a generous swig from the kid’s bottle and handed it to sal. “yes, we will all gather at the river, some fine day. all of us except roosevelt, that traitor to his class. ” she bowed to the kid. “thank you, kind sir, i won’t forget this. indeed, i won’t.” she turned to sal. “well, let’s shake a leg, if you’re coming with me.”

*


jenny lay back on her bed in her little room in the attic of the boarding house. she knew she wasn’t going to get to sleep.

she had given cindy the books she owned but she had a book from the library - night has a thousand eyes, by george hopley - and she tried to read it, but could not concentrate.

she was thinking about the storm, but even more about the three new guests. especially cindy. jenny started daydreaming about somehow going away with cindy - just the two of them, leaving cindy’s two crumbbum men friends behind - going away to some place like new york or frisco or hollywood….


suddenly she heard a couple of clicks against her window.

then another.

somebody with a practiced hand…

she got up and stood in front of the window for a few seconds so whoever was down there would see her silhouette and not toss up any more stones.

she opened the window.


part 10






Thursday, August 4, 2016

games, part 8


by harold p sternhagen writing as "ralph desmond"

being a sequel to fun

illustrated by konrad kraus

originally appeared in the july through october 1952 issues of walloping midnight stories magazine

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here





the boarding house was quiet.

brenda had taken cindy up to her room on the third floor. cindy had not asked any questions, or spoken at all, which was good.

brenda switched the light on and cindy sat down on the big double bed which took up most of the room and took out her cigarettes.

there was an ashtray on a table beside the bed and brenda pointed to it. “there’s an ashtray there. you can smoke but try not to set the place on fire.”


“yes, ma’am.” the table had a drawer in it and cindy reached over and pulled it open.

it was empty.

“you got a bible?” cindy asked brenda.

“a bible? you want a bible?”

“yeah, sometimes there’s bibles in places like this. it’s something to read, that’s all.”

“you just want something to read?”


“if you got anything.” cindy lit her cigarette, placed the match carefully in the ashtray and leaned back on the bed.

“i got a few books. i got anthony adverse, if you want that. and a couple of mystery books, the case of the this and that.”

cindy yawned. “that sounds good. i don’t mean to put you to any trouble.”

“no trouble. i’ll have jenny bring you the books. you want anything else?”

“no, thank you.”


brenda started to leave and cindy asked, “this place filled up?”

“pretty much, why?”

“it just seems quiet.”

“it’s late. and my regular guests are hard working folks who need a good night’s sleep.”

“yeah. just asking, that’s all.”

brenda went out and closed the door softly behind her.


then she went into her own room, next door. one reason she had personally escorted cindy up to the room was that she wanted to duck into her own room and stash away the two five dollar bills hal had given her.

she put one of the fives between the pages of the telephone book beside her bed. she unscrewed the knob on one of the posts on her bed and slipped the other five inside the bed post.

she did not really expect any trouble from hal and duke or anybody else but she stashed the money like this out of long habit.


she went over to the window and lifted it up a little to get a breath of air.

the night was completely still. but she knew that did not mean a storm wasn’t coming.

she went back downstairs. she found hal seated at the kitchen table by himself.

“where’s your pal?” brenda asked him.

“he’s sacked out. he needs his beauty sleep.”


“it’s late.”

“it ain’t as late as all that. i think i’ll go out for a little walk. if that’s all right with you.”

“suit yourself. but that storm could hit any minute.”

“i been wet before. you going to be up for awhile, to let me in?’

“a little while.” brenda knew there was no point in telling hal he had to be back at a certain time or he would be locked out. she could see he was the type who would just bang and bang and bang and scream and holler until somebody let him in.


“you could stay up and listen to the radio,” said hal. “hear if the storm is really coming.”

brenda shrugged. “it’s either coming or it isn’t.”

hal made no move to get up. “say, it’s awful quiet in this place.”

“it’s late. maybe not for you but for the honest working folks who have to get up in the morning.”

hal laughed. “hey, i’m honest too. it’s not my fault i’m just between jobs right now.”

“right. maybe you better shake your leg if you want to get your exercise before the storm hits.”

*


jenny rapped on cindy’s door.

“come in.”

jenny went in. cindy was lying on the bed. her little suitcase was at the foot of the bed but looked like it had not been opened.

“here’s those books you wanted.” jenny showed cindy the copies of anthony adverse and the case of the howling dog and the case of the stuttering bishop by erle stanley gardner.


“thanks. just leave them there.”

jenny was a little disappointed that cindy did not seem more talkative. she put the books down. there was a pack of old golds on the little table.

“can i have a cigarette?” she asked cindy.

“they will stunt your growth.”

“i am already big enough.”

cindy laughed. “oh well, in that case help yourself.”


jenny slipped a cigarette out of the pack. “you got a match?”

there was a book of matches on the bed beside cindy and she tossed them to jenny.

“there isn't much to do in this town,” said jenny.

“no, i don’t expect there is.”


part 9