by horace p sternwall
art direction by rhoda penmarq
illustrated by roy dismas , konrad kraus and rhoda penmarq
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"please, please speed it up, henry. there is nothing out there. we are in the middle of nowhere, and there is nothing out there."
"the fog is out there, my dear. the fog itself is something and it is out there."
"please don't make me have to take the wheel again. i wouldn't like that. and you wouldn't like that."
"it's better that i drive, if we want to get to peter's in one piece."
"in one piece when the party is over."
"i am sure we are not the only ones who will be held up by this fog. peter isn't going to start the party with no guests."
"he might if the ice is melting."
"you know peter that well, do you?"
"of course, i've known him for years." carol picked her big black purse off the seat beneath her and took her pack of herbert tareytons out of it.
"is there anyone you haven't known for years?'
"don't start." she put a tareyton between her lips and pushed in the cigarette lighter on the dashboard.
"look - look - there is something up ahead!" a figure emerged from the fog, standing by the side of the road.
"a hitchhiker - just what we need! don't speed up, you idiot!"
"that was a close call - i would have hated to hit him." the car slowed back to a crawl.
"he might be just what we need - willing to take the wheel and drive like a man."
"stop! stop and back up! now, henry, now!" the freshly lit cigarette bobbed furiously in carol's mouth. she grabbed the driver's arm.
he sighed and stopped the car.
"now, back up. i'll ask him if he's willing to drive - if he's not, we will just move on."
"yes, if he hasn't shot or stabbed us."
carol rolled the window down and stuck her head out of it as the car went onto reverse. the hitchhiker started jogging toward them.
"hey, buddy! you want to drive? we're headed to the city - all the way downtown."
"sure, sure!" the hitchhiker broke into a run. "my pleasure."
"then we are in business. get in the back, henry."
"why don't i just move over and you get in the back?"
she glared at him. "because i give better directions - crisp, concise directions. get in the back."
the hitchhiker appeared in the driver's side window. he was a white man in his twenties. his suit and hat were a couple of sizes too large, and damp from the fog, as were his face and mustache. he backed off as the driver got out, then got behind the wheel. he smiled and nodded to both his passengers.
"it is, isn't it? i'm carol chandler, and this is my husband henry."
"my name is mike," came the voice from the back seat.
"his parents called him michael, but he looks and acts like a henry, so i call him henry."
"ha ha. why don't i compromise and call you hank? is that okay, hank?"
"as long as you don't call me late for dinner."
the car started up and got back on the road. "mind if i go a little faster than you folks were going? not that i minded you going slow enough to pick me up."
"go as fast as you like, honey. i'm built for speed."
"my wife calls all men honey. eight months old to a hundred and eight, she calls them all honey."
"i had an uncle who called everybody sam. even if it wasn't their real name."
carol laughed. "is that your name - sam?"
the car picked up speed. "no, my name is stanley. stanley slade."
"i see." carol glanced back over the seat. "the jewel thief. who just busted out of the state pen"
"that's me. mind if i turn the radio on? just to see where i am?"
"you can try it. it wasn't coming in that great."
"pretty bold, aren't you?" henry/mike/hank asked. "just announcing yourself like that?"
"well, i'll tell you - i think i'm a pretty good judge of character and i took one look at you folks and i thought, these are people who'd want to help out a guy who's stood up to the bankers and the fat cats and given them a taste of their own medicine." slade looked over at carol. she just stared back at him.
slade turned on the radio and fiddled with it. there was nothing but a low hum and static and he turned it back off.
"i read a story about you in collier's," said mike, "or maybe it was vanity fair. said you were the true successor to robin hood, casanova and john dillinger."
"i would never compare myself to john dillinger. but people can write what they like."
"i have to say you are not looking too stylish there, stan," said mike. "did you get that suit off a clothesline somewhere?"
"ha ha. just about. let's just say that desperate men resort to desperate measures and leave it at that. i sure would hate to be captured in this and have my picture on the front page of the gazette."
"maybe war will be declared and you will be on page two."
"you are talking awful sassy to our guest, henry, for someone who was about ready to poop his pantaloons just a few minutes ago." carol took another tareyton out of her
pack and lit it off the first one.
"oh, how rude of me. would you like a cigarette?"
"i sure would. thank you very much."
mike squinted out the window. he could barely see farmland flying past. "think you could slow it down a little? we wouldn't want to get pulled over for speeding."
"there's nobody out in this."
"there might be somebody looking for you."
"i got them all faked out. they think i'm headed to chicago."
"that's a positive attitude."
"i'm a positive person. where were you folks headed, anyway? the theater maybe? "
"a party," carol answered.
"how would you like to help me out? doesn't that sound a lot more interesting than some old party? you can go to a party any night."
"yeah. we might be late for the party anyway."
mike rubbed his hands together but didn't add anything.
"you know where the hotel st crispian is?"
"not really. but as long as you do - "
"it's settled then. by the way, what do you do, hank? for a living?"
"i'm an attorney."
"perfect! you know how to talk your way out of things. i couldn't have picked a better partner. i guess this is my lucky night."