Thursday, October 18, 2012

79. "How High the Moon"

by Horace P. Sternwall

edited by Dan Leo* 

illustrations by roy dismas and danny delacroix

*Associate Professor of Romance Literature, Assistant Volleyball Coach, Olney Community College; editor of A Bible and a Six-Gun: The “Preacher Jones” Stories of Horace P. Sternwall, Vol.1; Olney Community College Press; available exclusively at Kresge’s 5&10 Stores.

click here for previous episode, here to begin at the beginning

click here for synopsis of all chapters so far

The desperate and drunken young lawyer Michael Chandler (called “Henry” by his wife Carol, because of his innate “Henryness”) and his new acquaintance Harold P. Sternhagen (author of Cast Caution to the Winds, High Yella Gal, Return to Okefenokee, The Angry Privates, and numerous other “paperback originals”) were heading for the bar in the Prince Hal Room of the venerable Hotel St Crispian when they were suddenly accosted by the notorious Lord Wolverington, who was sitting at a table with the equally notorious heiress Miss Caroline Charlton, the world-class bore and remittance man Phineas “Farmer” Brown, and Harold’s colleague in the dismal trade of letters, the science-fiction author Fred Flynn

“I say, Mr. Sternhagen, do you just walk by without saying hello, my boy?” 

“Oh, hello Lord Wolverington,” said Harold. “I’m sorry. I didn’t see you.”

“That’s because he only has eyes for that canary,” said Fred (the author of Starfleet Traitor, A Moon for Möbius, The Stars Are My Bailiwick, Cast-Offs of Betelgeuse, and numerous other books and short stories).

“The lovely Shirley De La Salle,” said Farmer Brown. “She’s a peach all right!”

“A little trollop you mean,” said Miss Charlton. “I’ve seen a thousand young janes like her come and I’ve seen them all go,  just as soon as their looks start to fade, straight down to the Bowery or to those low dockside bars frequented by brawny stevedores and merchant seamen.”

“Ignore Miss Charlton,” said Lord Wolverington. “The dear lady quite simply cannot bear to have any other female mentioned in her presence.”

“Trollops,” said Miss Charlton. “Seen them come, seen them go. And if it were not for the decayed likes of them I should so much more enjoy my own occasional visits to the Bowery or to the aforementioned low dockside bars.”

 The band had begun another song, and Shirley was singing again:

“Somewhere there's music
How faint the tune
Somewhere there's heaven
     How high the moon…”

“I say, Sternhagen,” said Lord Wolverington, “aren’t you going to introduce your friend?”

“Oh, sorry,” said Harold. “This is — Michael? Or is it Henry?”

“Michael,” said Michael or Henry. “Or, no, make it Henry —”  

“I forget your last name,” said Harold, who was still vastly under the influence of the second-hand reefer smoke he had inhaled mere minutes ago in the hotel’s stairwell.

“Chandler,” said Henry or Michael. “Michael Chandler.”

“Michael or Henry?” said Lord Wolverington.

“Henry,” said Michael. “Just call me Henry.”

Somewhere there's heaven,” sang Shirley. “It’s where you are…”

“And do please complete the introductions, Mr. Sternhagen,” said Lord Wolverington. “Show some breeding, old man, even if you are American.”

“Oh, right,” said Harold. “Sorry. Michael, or Henry, this is Lord Wolverington, and Miss Charlton, and this is Mr. Brown —”

“Call me 'Farmer,'” said the Farmer. “Everyone calls me 'the Farmer'.”

“And this is Fred Flynn.” 

“Hiya, pal,” said Fred, who was obviously at least two sheets to the wind, more likely three.

“Hello,” said Michael or Henry or whatever his name was.

“Do please join us, gentlemen,” said Lord Wolverington. “We’ll have Pierre bring us a couple of chairs. I say! Pierre!”

“Yes, sir?” said the aged waiter who just happened to be passing nearby at the moment.

“Bring us chairs for these two gentlemen.”

“Can’t you see I got a trayful of drinks in my hand?”

“Oh, yes, so you do,” said Lord Wolverington.

“You rich guys is all alike. Sometimes I think them communists got the right idea. Line you all up against a goddam wall.”

Pierre the waiter walked away with his tray.

“Oh, dear,” said Lord Wolverington.

“Ha ha, he put you in your place, Wolfie,” said Miss Charlton.

“I’ll get the chairs!” said Farmer Brown, rising to his feet and knocking his own chair over. He bent down, set the chair aright again, then went to get the chairs from a couple of nearby tables.

“The darkest night would shine,” Shirley sang, “if you would come to me soon…”

Harold felt conflicted.

On the one hand he wanted to sit at the bar, near to the stage, so that he could stare adoringly, close up, at the beautiful Shirley De La Salle; but on the other hand he knew that a table with both Farmer Brown and Lord Wolverington sitting at it would be a goldmine of free drinks, and top-shelf drinks, too, not the Old Crow highballs or draft Rheingold he usually drank...

The band went into a instrumental passage, Tony Winston smiling broadly with a cigarette between his teeth as he pounded the keys.

Lord Wolverington guffawed for some reason, Miss Charlton cackled, Fred Flynn yelled, “Go, daddy, go!

Michael or Henry seemed confused. Poor fellow, he probably wasn’t used to such eccentric people.

Suddenly the Farmer was there, a chair in each hand.

“Where shall I put them?” he asked, smiling, but then the Farmer was nearly always smiling, at least when other people were around…

“Put one chair here,” said Wolverington, “in between Miss Charlton and myself. Mr. Chandler, do sit next to us. Caroline and I love to chat with young people, don’t we, dear?”

“Oh, yes indeed, the younger the better,” said Miss Charlton.

“Do you know what I always say, Mr. Chandler?” said Lord Wolverington, sliding his chair slightly to one side so that the Farmer could slide in the empty chair.

“Um, no,” said Michael, Henry, whatever.

“I say, ‘Listen to the young people. Because maybe — just maybe, mind you — they have something to say!’

“Well, actually I’m not all that young,” said whatever his name was. “I’m thirty—”

“Nonsense!” cried Wolverington. “You are a boy! a mere boy!”

“A very handsome boy, too,” said Miss Charlton.

While all this was going on, and more, Harold found himself sitting between Farmer Brown and Fred Flynn. Oh well, at least Harold could see the stage from here, he could still see Shirley, Shirley De La Salle, who was now slinking up to the microphone again as Tony Winston apparently drew near to the end of his solo. 

Maybe it was better this way, sitting across the room rather than right near the stage at the bar. Harold wouldn’t seem so obvious in his abject adoration here.

He wondered if Shirley  would be impressed by his being a professional writer. One never knew. Some girls were impressed if they knew you were a published author, not all girls, but some — usually, alas, the more unattractive ones. The pretty girls tended to go for rich guys, or actors, prize fighters, gangsters. He remembered the words of his mentor, Max Shambleton, fiction editor for Modernistic Magazines (Terror Tales of Today

Tropical Terror Tales, Topical Terror Tales, Timely Terror Digest, etc.), the man who had first published Harold’s stories, and had taught him “the ropes”: 

“Hey, kid, ya hear the one about the Polish gal we hired as a typist? She was so dumb she banged a writer! Ha ha ha.” 

Yeah, girls just didn’t tend to go for writers. Except for plain girls. Or stupid girls who didn’t know any better. Shirley wasn’t plain, that was for sure. She might be stupid, though, there was a chance of that. Harold could only hope.

“Haw haw haw!” Wolverington was guffawing, showing his nicotine-stained dentures. “Haw haw haw! Don’t you agree, Mr. Sternhagen?”

Harold had no idea what the old pervert was talking and guffawing about. He had no idea and no wish to know.

He noticed that Michael or Henry looked very pale now, and nervous.

Harold wondered if Wolverington had his hand on Michael or Henry’s thigh. Or maybe Miss Charlton had her hand on his thigh. Maybe aged and degenerate claw-like hands were kneading both the fellow’s thighs.

Harold didn’t care.

“Somewhere there's heaven,”
sang Shirley. “How high the moon?” 


80. "i wouldn't mind having it"

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