Wednesday, September 10, 2014

"burning in the american night"

by horace p sternwall

illustrated by konrad kraus and eddie el greco

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

a sequel to "into the american night"

when roland confessed his plight - that he had lost his wallet - to the red-haired waitress, she and the bus driver both realized what had happened and were sympathetic, but had a good laugh about it as well.

the driver put his coffee cup down. "wait a minute. where are they going to go? they are not going to get back on the bus. you think they are walking down the road right now?"

"i saw a car go by about ten minutes after they left," roland told him sheepishly. "i thought i saw the fat one in the back seat, but i didn't think it could really be her."

the waitress and the driver looked at each other.

"you're telling me they had a car stashed here just in case they got somebody's wallet?" the waitress asked.

"naw," said the driver. "more likely they stole a car from the lot in back."

"damn!" the waitress looked out the window. "i hope they didn't steal mine." she quickly made her way from behind the counter and went outside, leaving roland alone with the driver.

the driver looked at roland. "i know i shouldn't have laughed, mister, but when something like that happens to someone else you just can't help it."

"that's all right," roland told him. "it seems funny when you see something like that in a movie." yes, he thought, if i saw joan blondell and glenda farrell pull a stunt like that on a fat banker from chicago - played by edward arnold - i would have laughed too.

"i don't know what to do," roland confessed to what he now took to be the sympathetic ear of the bus driver. "i could try to hitchhike back to new york." he glanced out the window at the dark empty highway. "or i could stay on the bus and try to call my sister in detroit to wire me some money."

but was his sister even still living in detroit? and would she actually send him any money?

or i could call mr bernstein back at the hotel, he thought. but i don't really want to do that.

"you had tickets beyond cleveland, didn't you?" the driver asked asked him.

"yes, to chicago and kansas city."

"you don't want to hitchhike out here. here's what you can do. you go to cleveland, and then when you get there, they'll give you a refund on your tickets to chicago and kansas city. they'll give you a ticket back to new york and there will be some cash left over so you'll have a little money in your pocket."

roland sighed. "yes, i guess that would be best." he looked down at his empty coffee cup and empty pie plate. "but i still don't have any money to pay here."

"hell, i'll pay. the line don't want people to think we don't take care about our loyal customers or any inconveniences they might suffer from desperadoes."

"gee, thanks!"

"one thing, though. no need to get the police involved, right?"

roland laughed. "are you kidding? it never crossed my mind."

"good." the driver got up from his stool. "let's saddle and ride. we're running a little late, with all this excitement."

the waitress was coming back through the door as they left.

"my car's there," she told the driver. "some other poor chump's might not be."

"glad to hear it," the driver told her. he pointed back to the counter. "i paid, for me and for this poor fellow."

"you're a white man, clyde," the waitress told him.


the packard sped down the dark highway.

melisandy reached over and popped open the glove compartment. it was stuffed, mostly with papers. she pulled all the things out and dumped them on the seat beside her.

"look through that, see if there's anything worth anything."

clara shifted her bulk in the back seat and reached over and gathered the items up, spilling a few on the floor in front of her.

she started going through them. "here's a couple of ten thousand dollar bills."

"very funny."

"it's just the usual crap. what did you expect? here's a menu, for a restaurant in - somewhere, i can't read it."

"i would have thought a menu was right in your line."

"ha ha. not if i'm not in the restaurant."

"any cigarettes?"


"fuck. look on the floor, i think you dropped a few things."

clara grunted and picked a few papers off the floor. "looks like a letter."

"great. read it to me."

"why? it's just a letter, what do want to read the guy's personal letter for?"

"because i'm nosy."

"i'll say."

"hey, you're a pig, i'm nosy, we all have our little ways."

"it starts, 'dear joe, how - how ' . i can't read this in the dark, you want me to turn the overhead light on? that might be conspicuous."

"okay, crybaby, forget it."

"we can read it later, when there's some light."

melisandy kept one hand on the wheel and turned the radio on and fiddled with it.

there was nothing but static, and she gave up.

"i wish i had a fucking cigarette."

"who's the crybaby now?"

melisandy laughed. "you're right, this has been a good night, we shouldn't be complaining. you got to admit, i can really pick them. and this car's not too bad, either."

"could have been better though."

"oh? how?"

"i could have finished my bacon and eggs and pancakes. they were really pretty good."

"oh, fuck you. you gave me the signal."

'i know, it was time. i still wish i could have finished them."

they drove a while in silence.

"so where now, miss criminal brain?'" clara finally asked.

"if we can ever get off this road, i figure we'll just head back to new york."

"no way! we burned new york down."

"no, dumbhead, we did not burn new york down. we might have burned a corner of one street down. if we were there a year we might burn a whole street down. we did not burn new york down. "

"i'd still rather go somewhere else."

"here's a sign coming up."

"so what's it say?"

"pittsburgh - 220 miles."

'"let's go to pittsburgh then."

"you'd rather go to fucking pittsburgh than new york?"

"i hear they got great bacon and eggs in pittsburgh."


roland had followed clyde the driver's good advice and gotten his ticket exchanged for one back to new york and a couple of dollars.

he had had to take a bus from cleveland to albany to kingston new york, to make a connection to new york city.

which was not due for two hours.

now he was sitting on a hard bench in the kingston station, and the relief of realizing he did not have to hitchhike back to new york had completely worn off.

he didn't want another cup of coffee or another piece of pie, and he did not feel like reading his book about general custer.

what a fiasco!

next time he would have the foresight to leave some money in his bag, besides having some in his pocket, to spread the risk around. live and learn.

because there would be a next time.

roland was more determined than ever to follow his dream.

a voice - the voice of a young girl - broke the silence.

"hear the good news - the good news about salvation!"

the girl was very small, but probably about thirteen or fourteen, with long pigtails down her back. she was walking among the seats, trying to hand out some kind of little leaflet, but not getting much response from the uniformly weary-looking denizens of the kingston new york bus station.

"any contribution is welcome, good people. to do the lord's work."

roland had a feeling he was dreaming, that he had been this way before.

had he had seen her before ?

of course! working the same ticket, in the lobby of the st crispian, more than once, and he and nolan the house detective had had to chase her out.

now she approached him.

roland felt foolish, but he was still cheered somehow to see a familiar face.

"excuse me, miss, but i believe we've met."

the girl was only slightly taken aback. "oh?"

"yes, at the hotel st crispian. on bedford street in new york."

the girl blinked and nodded. she offered him a pamphlet and he took it.

"are you on your way back to new york, sir?"

"yes, i am." for some reason roland found himself telling her his whole sad story.

which she listened to without a flicker of amusement, only a look of infinite sympathy.

"that's terrible, sir. but those are the things that happen in a world that abandons the lord."


salome finished her cigarette and stubbed it out under her foot. through the window she could see pippi talking to a man seated on one of the benches, but could not see him clearly.

salome and pippi had just been released from the rosenzweig "home for girls" in the catskills. salome had gotten time off for good behavior, but pippi had served the whole one year of her commitment, and had a couple of months added.

they had been given bus tickets from schoharie to new york but had cashed them in and were hitchhiking back to the big city.

they had tried to score some money one way and another on their trip, but so far had not had much luck.

but salome was still impressed with pippi, with her tenacity and with such preaching skills as she had been able to display at the school, which salome had to admit were pretty good, especially for a white person.

and she was curious, though skeptical, about the friends in the city pippi had told her about, especially this gwendolyn person.

anyway, she couldn't wait to get back to new york one way or another and start burning it down.


No comments: