Friday, May 30, 2014

mysterious woman, conclusion

by fred flynn

illustrated by konrad kraus and roy dismas

originally appeared in the november-december 1948 issue of strangely thrilling tales

part three of three

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

for part one, click here

for part two, click here

the rain kept falling. a wind began blowing in from the bay.

now what?

chester considered walking back to madame gogol's and bumming a dime from her. what an idiot he would look and feel like!

she might have gone to bed. and if he got a dime and walked back here to fisherman's wharf then the phone might not work anyway.

maybe there was a bar still open somewhere nearby and he could get change and call a cab from there. and get a good stiff drink while he was at it.

of course! that's what he should have done to begin with.

and if he couldn't find one, he would just have to start walking back downtown and see if a cab came along.

and if he got all the way down the hill to market street he could probably catch a bus or trolley.

what else could he do? with a sigh he gripped his umbrella a little tighter and headed off the wharf .

the first street sign he saw said jefferson street.

jefferson street. jefferson street. he had heard or seen that name tonight.

on the cover of the matchbook the detective, moran had given him.

chester took the matchbook out of his pocket. he squinted at it in the light of the streetlamp beside the street sign.

stan's bar. jefferson street, but he couldn't make out the number.

he looked to his left, toward the embarcadero. not a light in sight. to his right, he saw a few lights. he headed for them.

there it was. stan's bar. chester could hardly read the faded lettering on the small window and he never would have seen it if he had not been looking for it.

but was it open? chester pushed the door and it swung inward.

"we're closed." the place was tiny, and dimly lit, and the bar started just inside the door. the bartender who had spoken loomed above chester.

chester hesitated. the bartender, in the shadows, looked big and mean.

"uh - i just want to use the phone," chester got up the nerve to say.

before the bartender could reply, a voice came from one of the booths along the wall. "let him use the phone." chester looked over and saw a bulky figure sitting deep in the booth. "give him a drink too, if he wants one."

the bartender shrugged. "the pay phone's broke," he told chester. "use this." he took a phone from under the bar and put it in front of chester.

"thank you," chester told him. he folded his umbrella and reached for the phone. "i just want to call a cab."

"go ahead. you want a drink?"

"a whiskey and soda, please. make it a double."

"a whiskey and soda!" exclaimed the man in the booth. "i knew right away you were a whiskey and soda man. like me. say, pal, if you are calling a cab call mac's cab, they are a couple of blocks away."

"why , thank you." chester turned toward the man, whom he could still not see clearly in the dark booth, although he could see he was very fat. "do you know the number?"

"lombard 7 - 4445. tell them ray from stan's sent you."

"thanks again." chester dialed the number. after four rings, it was picked up, and chester told the gravelly voice on the other end where he was going and where he was calling from. "ray told me to call," he remembered to add.

"oh - okay. our guy will be right over." it seemed to chester the voice dropped a little to a more polite tone.

chester put the receiver down. the drink was sitting in front of him. he took a five dollar bill out of his wallet and put it on the bar.

he took a healthy sip of the drink. whoa! it was stronger than the one he would have made himself at home.

"nasty night," said the fat man behind him.

"yes, it is," chester agreed. he hoped the man would not ask him what he was doing out on such a night.

but the fat man lapsed into silence. the bartender disappeared.

chester sat down at the bar and stared into the powerful whiskey and soda.

did he fall asleep or pass out for a minute? the next thing he knew he was looking into an empty glass and a cab driver was at his side.

"you the party for 16th and bryant?" the cab driver looked familiar. his voice seemed very loud.

the fat man looked familiar. the bartender had looked familiar.

"yes," chester answered, blinking as if in a bright light, although the bar was still dark.

"hey al, " said the fat man from his booth.

"ray. i didn't see you there."

"i'm always here, aren't i? hey, can you drop this off for me? it will be right on your way." the fat man had something in his hand.

"sure, ray, anything for you." the cab driver went over and took the something - a thick brown envelope - from the fat man.

the cab driver glanced at the envelope. "you been there before, right?," the fat man asked.

"yeah." the cab driver looked at chester. "you ready?"

"yes." chester got up, a little unsteadily, and followed the driver out the door.

it was still raining steadily. i should have said thank you to the guy again, thought chester, as the driver opened the rear door of the cab for him.

as he settled himself into the back seat, chester wondered, did i pick up my change from the five?

and what was this about dropping off the envelope before taking him home? dropping it off where, in sausalito?

the driver headed down taylor and took a right on to bay street.

"uh - where are you going first?" chester asked.

"i thought i'd drop ray's package off first. you don't mind, do you?"

"um - "

"it's not that out of your way. it's on turk, around jefferson square. what are you, worried about the fare? i'll charge you a flat two fifty, how's that?"

"that sounds very reasonable," chester heard himself say.

they headed west on bay. the driver didn't make conversation, for which chester was grateful.


"i'll be right back. you wait here."

chester blinked. had he fallen asleep again? he must have.

he was alone in the cab. at first it seemed that the rain had let up, but chester realized it only seemed that way because of the bright light streaming from the house the cab driver was now walking toward.

the driver opened the front door and entered the house without knocking.

the house was enormous. it looked to chester like a mansion in a hollywood movie. every room in the three stories was lit up, like there was a party going on.

but he didn't hear any noise or music. maybe the wind was blowing the sound away.

chester waited.

and waited. he was wide awake now. what was the driver doing, having a few drinks?

chester found himself opening the cab door. he looked for his umbrella. he must have forgotten it at stan's bar.

the rain hit him in the face. he walked quickly up to the big house.

the door was not locked. he opened it and went in.

the house was filled with people, most of them in evening clothes.

chester walked through the brightly lit rooms, looking for the driver.

nobody seemed to take any notice of chester, in his wet, cheap suit.

there was no sign of the driver.

a short fat woman in a low cut red gown, holding a martini glass in front of her like a first communicant holding a flower, was staring at him.

"excuse me," chester asked her. "did you see a cab driver come through here?"

"a cab driver? a cab driver?" she acted as if he had asked if a herd of buffalo, or twenty naked women, had come through.

"yes," chester laughed nervously. "a cab driver. he was wearing one of those hats that cab drivers wear."

"do you have an invitation? does lord s--------- know you are here?"

suddenly two large men in tuxedos appeared at chester's sides. they looked sort of "oriental" - not chinese or japanese, but like the guards in bible pictures who would throw shadrach, mishach and abednego into the fiery furnace.

"please come with us, sir," one of them said. they each took one of chester's arms.

"it's all right, boys," chester heard a baritone voice. he looked up and saw a very tall man - the tallest he had ever seen, almost seven feet - smiling down at him. this must be lord s---------, chester thought.

lord s-------- had a long bronzed face and a black mustache. he wore a purple sash with his white dinner jacket, in lieu of a cummerbund.

"go along, boys." lord s--------- put a huge hand on chester's shoulder. "this is my old friend akbar, he is always welcome here." he looked into chester's eyes. "how are you, akbar?"

"good, good, " chester answered. "couldn't be better."

suddenly the cab driver appeared. he saw chester talking with lord s------- and his face turned white.

lord s ------- nodded to the two guards and they seized the cab driver. they dragged him away through the crowd.

he did not go quietly but began screaming, "no, no, no - i didn't tell him to come in - i swear i didn't! i swear! please! give me a chance!"

none of the guests seemed to take any notice.

"make yourself at home, akbar," lord s-------- continued. "try the bar in the green room - off to the left there. they have an excellent absinthe - i know you'll like it. the show will begin in a few minutes." lord s----- smiled at chester and turned away.

"thank you," chester mumbled.

he headed into the room - the "green room" - that lord s-------- had indicated.

there was a stage set up against the back wall of the green room. there was a microphone on it, but no sign of a band.

before chester could reach the bar to ask for an absinthe - he could never remember drinking absinthe in his life - the room, and the whole house, darkened.

into total blackness.

then a yellow spotlight shone on the stage.

a woman in a black dress stepped on to the stage to polite applause from the guests.

it was joanna, chester's wife.

she stepped to the microphone and began singing "the folks who live on the hill" - one of chester's favorite songs, especially as sung by maxine sullivan.

"someday," joanna sang,
"we'll build a home on a hilltop high,
you and i,
shiny and new,
a cottage that two can fill - "

the fat woman in the low cut red dress was at chester's side again. she stared vacantly at joanna as she sang.

"and we'll be pleased to be called
the folks who live on the hill.

we may be adding a wing or two
a thing or two -

"do you know who that is?" chester asked the fat woman.

"of course. don't you?" she answered. but her hostility to chester seemed to have evaporated. she had probably seen lord s------ talking to him.

"excuse me," said chester. he turned away and headed for the bar.

the bar was dark. there was no bartender behind it.

there was a large french window to the right of the bar. chester turned the handle on it and it opened.

he stepped through it and closed it behind him. he walked quickly around to the front of the house. nobody followed him.

the cab was gone.

chester walked west down turk street in the rain. he looked back and the house was dark, and silent.

he took a left on webster and headed through the fillmore to the mission district and his apartment.

he was soaked when he got home, but before he changed his clothes and made himself a drink, he went through the apartment making sure joanna was not there.

as he suspected, she was not there.

he never saw her again.

the end

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