scaramanga and the others knew the drill, but bob went over it anyway in a voice loud enough for them all to hear. scaramanga was to get two dollars for covering the bar until maureen showed up. but he was not to spend it until she arrived and he was not to give free drinks - or food or anything else - to his pals or put anything on their tabs.
the cold morning air felt good on bob's face. he put his hands in his pockets and headed toward broadway.
he passed a skinny well dressed woman with an aggrieved air. not really rich looking, but well off enough to be slumming.
was she headed for the bar?
bob turned after she passed him. she was indeed entering the hallowed portal of bob's venerable bowery bar.
if she was looking for excitement, she was in for some bitter disappointment.
estelle had awakened that morning with the battle of waterloo and the battle of new orleans fighting for space in her skull.
peter had long since left for work.
when estelle finally got into the kitchenette, she found a brief note from peter on the table.
wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise. - proverbs 20:1
you don't say.
estelle made herself a cup of coffee.
the conversation of the night before came back to her.
about her great idea for a party.
well, why not? if she could manage to get dressed and down the elevator.
i'll show you wine is a mocker, petey boy. and maybe strong drink a brawler, too.
mrs wagner had just finished her fourth cup of tea of the morning but had not quite finished reading the new york times when she heard estelle's door slam.
the chalmerses - peter and estelle - had not had a really loud party for - what? - almost a month.
nor had anyone else in the building, the building in which mrs wagner was the oldest inhabitant and considered herself the rightful ruling spirit.
although it might have surprised the other tenants, mrs wagner had no illusions about the fact that she enjoyed the parties, and the opportunities it gave her to raise a fuss about them.
a body needed to do something besides drink tea and read the new york times and time and life magazines.
if things didn't pick up, she might have to break down and buy herself a television.
even though she hated anything new.
estelle paused outside mrs wagner's door and stuck her tongue out at it.
disgusting, hypocritical old toad!
i'll show you. going to have a party!
when estelle got to the bowery, she was surprised at how deserted it looked. she had expected to see the sidewalks lined with colorful "bums" and "hoboes".
she decided they must all be inside in their "flophouses". come on, fellows, it's not that cold out.
maybe she should have gone up to broadway instead.
she found herself beside a bar. bob's bowery bar. the sign outside said "be of good cheer."
yeah. good cheer. just what the doctor ordered.
some good cheer. and then i'll go over to broadway and find some colorful characters for my party.
estelle pushed open the door of bob's bowery bar.
what a dump! was it deserted?
now she needed some good cheer more than ever.
there was a seedy looking character behind the bar, not even wearing a bartender's white shirt or apron.
and yes, there were some patrons, a bunch of sad looking personages all huddled together at two adjoining tables and looking like they could sure use some good cheer.
they watched estelle as she approached the bar.
"good morning, madam, what will you have this morning?" scaramanga greeted estelle.
"um - what have you got?" estelle seated herself very carefully on the well-patched bar stool.
"allow me to recommend the house bock."
"sure, why not?" estelle looked around as she took her cigarettes out of her purse. with her eyes accustoming to the gloom, it all looked even crumbier than before.
"would you like something to eat?" scaramanga asked her. "perhaps you would like to try bob's world famous scrambled eggs with hash?"
"i think i'd rather not."
"suit yourself." scaramanga took a few seconds to find the cleanest glass available, and began drawing the bock.
the five characters together at the tables had been gazing at estelle with the sad eyes of fish on ice. feeling her return stare some of them turned away and began mumbling to each other.
estelle lit her cigarette and took a sip of the bock scaramaga had put in front of her.
ahhhh. not bad. not bad at all.
"who are those guys?" she asked scaramanga. "they look kind of down in the dumps."
"why - they are poets , madam. heh, heh. being down in the dumps is their stock in trade, you might say."
"poets! i hate poetry."
"poetry does not enjoy the esteem it did in ages past."
"i hated poetry more than anything in school. except maybe algebra and trigonometry."
estelle took another small sip of her bock, then a bigger one.
she was starting to feel better already. sitting here with a nice cold drink, where nobody knew who she was, without a care in the world.
all by herself.
no petey boy with his bible, no mrs wagner with her complaints to the police, no mr ferguson scaring poor petey to death, none of her so called friends who couldn't take a joke, none of those people who never wanted to have any fun…
the poets didn't look so unhappy now. they were starting to look like … colorful characters.
now the ugliest one of the five, a big ginger-headed fellow with a soft cap on the back of his head, got up and approached the bar.
"top of the morning to you, milady," he addressed estelle.
estelle took a big drag of her cigarette and blew a couple of smoke rings.
"can i ask you something?" she asked the red haired man.
"why, surr-tainly, madam."
"are you a colorful character?"
"why, madam, for sure i can be as colorful as you might want me to be."
"and your friends over there, are they colorful characters too?"
"ha ha! why, i could whip some colorfulness into them, my lady, if you but say the word."
estelle took another big sip of her bock, then drained it.
she put the glass on the bar. "another, please," she told scraramanga.
she spoke up loud enough for the four poets left at the tables to hear her.
such disasters that peter was a little surprised when she suggested having another one.
peter supposed that some of his friends who were bachelors or who might come without their wives might show up, but none with their wives, who had all had more than enough of estelle, and her nasty tongue and drunken antics.
but he did not say so out loud when she first brought up the subject.
he marked his place in his book, placed it carefully on the wide arm of his favorite chair, and cleared his throat.
"a party, dear? and - ah - who would you suggest we invite?"
"you mean - who would possibly come? i can see what you are thinking."
"not at all. the last few parties have been quite - eventful. i would think anybody craving a little excitement would jump at the chance to come."
"always so tactful, aren't you, petey boy? why don't you use a little of that soft soap on mister ferguson, and get that raise? huh?"
"now, estelle, we've been over that before. about this party - who did you have in mind to invite?"
"michael? well, at least we haven't heard from him in a while." meaning, thought peter, that he had not been present at the latest besotted outrages perpetrated by estelle.
"yes, the poor boy might be lonely. his little wife never went back to him, you know."
"no, i did not know," peter replied, in a tone that implied that he was not interested in lowly womanly gossip.
liar, thought estelle. she hated the way men pretended to stick up their noses at gossip, when they were even worse than women, though they didn't call it gossip, they were just keeping track of things, knowing the lay of the land, or some crap like that.
"hmm. well, bully for her. might be a little more interesting than hanging around the house all day."
"oh, really? meaning, why don't i get out of the house and get a job? is that what you are trying to say, petey?"
peter sighed. "you know i am not saying any such thing. even if i thought you might like it - which we both know you would not - you know mister ferguson does not like the wives of the senior brokers - or anybody's wife in the world, really - working. so what is the sense of even thinking about it?"
"but what about you, petey - wouldn't it embarrass you to have your poor little wifey out in the big bad world where you couldn't protect her? where other men - younger, stronger men with a little hair on their chests might actually get to talk to her? hmm?"
peter glanced down at the book sitting on the arm of his chair. "we will probably never know, will we? now about that party - maybe i could invite some of the younger fellows at the office - i am sure they wouldn't turn down an invitation from a senior broker - "
"the younger fellows who haven't seen what a bitch and a crazy person i am yet, you mean."
"did i say that?" peter looked down at his book again.
"i can read your mind - as you know."
"look, if you want me to invite the regular crowd, i will -"
"i don't think i heard you say ' oh no, you're not a bitch or a crazy person'"
peter finally turned a little pink. "estelle, it wasn't me who threw drinks in people's faces or starting taking my clothes off - "
"oh, forget it, we won't have any party. we'll never have any fun any more!" estelle
moved away toward the radio and the bar.
as she did she noticed the book peter was picking up. "what's that stupid book you keep looking at - don't tell me - " she moved back toward him. "it is! it's the bible! the bible again! you cheeseparing milksop, what did i tell you about reading the goddamned bible!"
"now don't start that again." peter clutched his bible as if afraid estelle would rip it out of his hands. "we all have our ways. i find that reading the good book gives me solace -"
"solace from me, you mean! no wonder you'll never make any real money or amount to anything. aaargh! what next ? are you going to go out and preach in the streets like a loony bird instead of going to work and making money!"
estelle turned away . "oh, i give up! i just hope you can read your bible, mr holy joe, and listen to some be-bop at the same time! and i need a drink!"
she turned on the radio. "symphony sid, save me!"
"now, estelle, keep it at a reasonable volume. we don't need the neighbors complaining again."
two hours, and four martinis for estelle later.
"you know what i have, petey?"
"no, estelle, what do you have?'"
"i have an idea."
"don't you want hear my idea? it's a good one."
"i am sure it is."
"it's a way we can have a party. and you can be a holy joe at the same time."
"yes, here's my plan."
"well, let's hear your plan , estelle."
"it's a great plan - my plan. when i get a plan in my head i get a plan, petey boy."
"spit it out, my dear."
"it's a way to get back at these neighbors like mrs wagner and mr - mr crawfish - who are always complaining about the noise - and - and - thinking we are bringing riffraff into the building. well, we'll show them them riffraff!!"
"i'm afraid i don't follow you. what has this got to do with my being a 'holy joe' as you so charmingly put it."
"here's my plan."
"we go out in the street - down broadway - and find the most hopeless drunken bums we can find and invite them up here for a big shindig! booze, booze, and more booze! and maybe a few hot dogs."
"what does all this have to do with being a holy joe?"
"isn't it obvious, petey boy? it's what jesus would do, isn't it?
go out into the highways and byways and find the lowliest of his brethren and solace them or some such crapola?"
"please, estelle, don't take the name of the lord in vain."
"all right, john the baptist then, or st francis or somebody. and i'll do my salome dance! wait till those sinners see my salome dance!"
"um - maybe you should lie down."
"and then you can be a holy joe, holy moe, and preach them a sermon. they won't mind, they're used to it. come on, petey boy, it's a great idea, admit it!"
"at least you still have a sense of humor, i have to admit that."
by harold p sternhagen, writing as "amanda mccorbin"
originally appeared in the june 1950 issue of chilling tales.
illustrated by danny delacroix and eddie el greco
editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo
thanks to Anney Thomas for the inspiration for this traveler's tale
it had been a long, dreary day, and barbara's insistence on taking the motorcar instead of the erie railroad had proved, in annabelle's opinion, to be a complete and unmitigated disaster.
annabelle was never one to turn up her nose at the slightest comfort and luxury, and had always quite enjoyed the amenities of modern railways.
but barbara, who was inordinately proud of her new motorcar, which her doting father had presented to her on her thirtieth birthday, had insisted.
barbara always had her way in any divergence of opinion or inclination - they could hardly be called arguments - as they were over before they began - that she had with annabelle.
and so the motorcar it was.
annabelle only hoped that barbara would not massacre any country folk on the back roads on the way to cleveland. she knew that barbara had had several incidents of that sort in the past, costing her father a "pretty penny" though not, of course, anything he could not afford.
another irritation, one that only surfaced on the morning of their departure , was that there was room in the motorcar's storage for only one of annabelle's trunks!
what was she to do in cleveland, wear the same dress every day?
annabelle had to fight back tears, and almost - almost - backed out of going on the trip, but a few stern words from barbara brought her in line, as always.
in the end, the first leg of the trip was not too eventful.
no peasants were killed, only a couple of sheep and an animal that annabelle thought was a dog but that barbara insisted was a wolf - "not that i shall receive any gratitude for killing it, oh no - of course these people are quick enough out of the underbrush with their hands out when one of their wretched spawn runs out in front of me -"
the weather was actually quite pleasant, especially the breezes that were stirred up when there was enough of a straight road for barbara to really "let her rip".
but any thought of the excursion as a whole being anything but unpleasant was quite dashed on their arrival at the hotel on which they were to spend their first night, before setting out for their eventual destination of cleveland the following day.
in the fading light of the day, it was quite the dreariest place annabelle had ever seen - and she had seen some dreary places, especially on vacations with her mother and her aunt coletta when she had been a child - all those gray lakes and mountains and the endless pine trees!
at least a few of those places had had a touch of romantic decay about them.
this place - what was its ridiculous name? - the hotel absalom - was certainly devoid of romance.
and even of decay - its dreariness was of the sort that might have been slapped together willy-nilly from inferior materials the week, or the day before.
now annabelle squinted at the dusty front window and the deadly potted plant beside the entrance, and asked barbara:
"do you think - do you think this perhaps might not be the place?"
to which barbara of course gave one of her patented guffaws. "of course it is the place! there are probably not two places called the hotel absalom in the entire world, let alone two in this godforsaken county."
"but - there is not even a doorman."
"then i suppose we shall have to open the door ourselves, will we not?"
"but -" annabelle looked around in the descending gloom - "where is the doorman? surely there must be one."
"who knows? perhaps he is chasing away a goat. perhaps he is answering a call of nature."
how annabelle hated it when barbara made such uncouth references - especially in public places! but that was her way.
"but surely we can not be expected to carry our own trunks inside," annabelle protested.
"i am sure the desk clerk will dispatch someone to bring them in," barbara answered.
"but-" annabelle looked back at the motorcar. "are we to leave our baggage unattended?"
"who is going to steal it? the goat that the doorman chased away? come on, namby-pamby, the sooner we get inside the sooner we will have something to eat. i am starving."
annabelle, who was not in the least hungry, sighed and followed barbara through the front door.
the lobby of the hotel proved even darker and more dismal than it had appeared from the outside.
at least there was a desk clerk on duty - annabelle had been afraid there might not be - though no bellhops in sight.
annabelle stepped up to the desk. in their excursions together it usually fell to annabelle to deal with desk clerks and servants and such, as they had found by experience that barbara's imperious manner often resulted in all manner of tiresome unpleasantnesses .
the clerk was scratching away diligently at something. after about a minute he looked up.
"i believe we have a reservation. i am miss porter, and this is miss devereaux. we reserved for one night."
the clerk took his time checking some sort of little notebook.
"yes," he finally answered with a slightly surprised air. "you are indeed. sign here, please." and he turned the register toward annabelle.
annabelle signed it , and barbara followed suit.
"our bags and trunks are outside. do you think you could have them brought indoors?" annabelle asked, with what was for her a touch of unusual asperity.
the clerk bowed his head with the resignation of one just sentenced to the gallows. "of course, miss."
the rest of the evening passed uneventfully. annabelle and barbara were the only diners in the restaurant. the food was unspeakable, but barbara ate enough of it for three hired men.
the room was not quite so bad as it might have been, and annabelle, happy that the day was over, slept soundly.
"good morning. we would like to check out."
the desk clerk, a different one from the night before and a cheeky looking fellow, laughed. "check out? i'm sorry, miss, but there is no checking out of the hotel absalom."
"what nonsense!" exclaimed annabelle. "here is our key. now, if you would be so kind as to present us with our bill so that we may pay it, we will be on our way."
the clerk patted his little mustache. " i repeat, miss, there is no checking out of the hotel absalom, only checking in."
"bah!" annabelle turned back to barbara for encouragement. "we agreed to no such thing."
"but you did, miss. you signed. you both signed."
"we signed nothing but the register."
"then i assume you did not read the small print." the clerk reached for the register and turned it around on the desk to face annabelle.
at the top of the page, above the lined spaces for signatures, in print so small annabelle had to take out her pince nez to read it, were the words:
we, the undersigned, do hereby declare before all the angels in heaven and all the demons on earth and in hell that we renounce the world outside this hotel, the hotel absalom in avalon township, pennsylvania , and that we likewise consign our bodies and our souls to the exclusive care and possession of the proprietors of the said hotel absalom, and all such powers and dominions of the earth, the air, and the nether regions (commonly referred to as "hell") as such proprietors are in league with, in perpetuity.
how absurd! without speaking, annabelle turned to barbara and pointed to the register.
barbara stepped forward and read the words. strangely, so far from displaying the burst of outrage annabelle expected, she smiled.
laughed, actually. "well, my dear," she addressed annabelle, "i guess we shall just have to make the best of it. it might be rather jolly."
annabelle blanched. suddenly it all came to her - who was barbara anyway and what did she know about her? yes, she knew her violent outbursts, her delight in carnage, her scorn of danger, her ferocious appetite, her contempt for polite amenities -
annabelle's mind raced back to their first strange, fateful meeting, on that rainy day when annabelle had lost her way in the cobbled back streets of rome -
lost her way ---
and now barbara smiled at annabelle, as she had never quite smiled before.