Wednesday, October 3, 2012

76. "Hank and Harold"

by Horace P. Sternwall

edited by Dan Leo* 

illustrations of harold p sternhagen's works by roy dismas 
other illustrations by danny delacroix
*Associate Professor of Medieval Latin Studies, Assistant Billiards Coach, Olney Community College; editor of The Garage Door That Wouldn’t Open and 33 Other Stories of Post-War Malaise, by Horace P. Sternwall; Olney Community College Press, “The Sternwall Project”.

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click here for synopsis of all chapters so far

Harold P. Sternhagen stared at the black-and-white photograph on the poster.  Shirley.

Shirley De La Salle.

Shirley De La Salle, her glossy lips opened in song. He could hear her only slightly muffled voice now, singing behind the doors of the Prince Hal Room.

“Dere's an ol' man called de Mississippi,” she sang, “dat's de ol' man dat I'd like to be! What does he care if de world's got troubles? What does he care if de land ain't free?”

“Excuse me, sir?”

“Ol' man river,” she sang, Shirley sang, “dat ol' man river, he mus’ know sumpin’, but don't say nuthin'. He jes' keeps rollin’, he keeps on rollin' along —” 

“Excuse me. Pal?”

It was some guy, talking. Talking to Harold. Why?

“Sorry, buddy,” said the guy, “don’t mean to disturb you.”

“Oh, no, that’s okay,” said Harold, although he immediately thought: no, it isn’t okay.

“My name is, uh, Hank,” said the man. “Hank, um, Blank.”

“Your name is ‘Hank Blank’?”

“Yes, heh heh, I know it sounds, um, odd. I believe your name is Stern-, uh, Sternwell? Sternhall? Stern-something.”


“Sternhagen, that’s it. How are you?”

“I’m — excuse me, but — may I ask why you are introducing yourself to me?”

“Well, you see, I was talking to the doorman, back there —”

“Who, Olaf?”

“Yes, Olaf, but don’t look at him."

“Why shouldn’t I look at him?”

“Because I don’t want him to know we’re talking about him. I’ll explain.”

“Listen, pal, if you’re a pansy I want to tell you right now you’re sniffing around the wrong fire hydrant. I may look like an invert but I assure you I’m as heterosexual as the next fellow.”

“I’m not a pansy,” said the man, whom Harold could now see was not only somewhat drunk but also perhaps somewhat desperate. But then Harold was very high from all that reefer smoke he’d just inhaled, and in his own way he was desperate, so he supposed that made them even. “I’m even married,” added the guy.

“Well, that means nothing,” said Harold. “Haven’t you read the Kinsey Report?”

“Well, I’ve read about it…”

“According to Kinsey, lots of married guys are pansies. Or at least part-time pansies.”

“So you’re saying you’re not Hank Blank.”

The man sighed.

“No, I’m not Hank Blank.”

“Thank God,” said Harold. “It would be a terrible thing to go through life being called ‘Hank Blank’.”

“My real name is Michael. Michael Chandler. My wife calls me Henry, though.”


“Why does she call me Henry?”


“Because she says I look like a Henry. I think what she really means is I act like a Henry.”

“You know —” said Harold, taking out his cigarettes, “by the way, may I speak frankly?”

“You might as well. After all it’s I who have intruded on you.”

Michael brought out his lighter and lit Harold’s cigarette. If there was one thing Michael was good at, it was lighting people’s cigarettes. He had practiced it from a young age, always keeping his lighter in his right-hand jacket-pocket, ready for the quick draw.

Harold P. Sternhagen drew deeply on his cigarette, and exhaled a great cloud of smoke before speaking.

“You do seem like a Henry,” he said, finally.

“Well, you can call me Henry if you like.”

“Okay, ‘Henry’. And you can call me Harold.”

“’Harold’,” said Michael, or Henry. “And is Harold really your name?”

“It is. Harold P. Sternhagen. Perhaps you’ve heard of me. I’m a writer.”

“I don’t really read a whole lot.”

“Hell’s Pantry? Swamp Gal? I Remember Bessie? Call It Dishonor?”

“No, I’m afraid I’m not familiar with those titles —”

“The Three Cowardly Comrades? Ed Is Dead? A Bullet For Barbara?”

“Um, no —”

“Lesbian Dawn? T is for Temptress? Slave of the Slaves? Street of the Damned?”

“No, sorry, I keep meeting to read more, but I’m so busy at work, and —”

“I have a new story in the current issue of Savage Adventure Stories. It’s called ‘Ben Blagwell’s Revenge’.”

“I’ll have to pick it up.”

“I think you may enjoy it,” said Harold. “But I still don’t know why you’ve introduced yourself to me. And why you knew my name, or almost knew my name.”

“I might as well come clean with you. You see, when I was talking to that doorman —”


“Please don’t look at him, he’s probably watching us now.”

“He is watching us now.”

“Anyway, I didn’t want him to know my real name or why I was here, so I told him I was meeting a friend in the bar.”

“I see.”

“He asked me the friend’s name, and I drew a blank.”

“Like ‘Hank Blank’.”

77."Ol' Man River"

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