as originally appearing in the july-august 1951 issue of sinister destinies magazine
illustrated by konrad kraus and roy dismas
editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo
part one of several
jerry and roselle winfield were a beautiful couple.
they had been together for almost five years, longer than any of their friends would have expected.
and longer than any of their married friends had been together.
in most ways jerry and roselle were typical members of their class of people, and did the same things and enjoyed the same things as their friends.
they enjoyed spending money (which they both had huge amounts of), drinking , smoking opium and reefers, skiing in the winter, frolicking on european and south american beaches in the summer, having intense but casual affairs with strangers, and all that sort of thing.
but what jerry and roselle really enjoyed more than anything else, and what they enjoyed doing in one another's company more than anything, was making fun of people.
their friends and relations of course, but even more so complete strangers.
they enjoyed sitting in bars and cafes and restaurants, and in good weather, park benches, and looking at the people they saw sitting or passing by, and speculating about their miserable and dreary little lives, and making up stories about them.
it was all great fun.
often when they had a load on or were high on gage (which was most of the time) they spoke a little too loudly, and the objects of their derision would hear them.
some of these people would pretend not to hear or even slink away, but more often than not, they would take exception and attempt to mock jerry and roselle in turn - with the pathetic and transparent jealousy of the peasantry.
sometimes they would even threaten jerry and roselle with violence.
jerry and roselle had a cure-all for these awkward situations - money.
they both carried thick rolls of twenty-dollar bills, and a few hundred dollar bills, and found that these, used judiciously, would inevitably placate the most surly and aggrieved proles.
one afternoon jerry and roselle arranged to meet at one of their favorite spots - a bench in a small park behind a bus stop on broadway near 112th st.
jerry had spent most of the morning at his office - actually his grandfather's office - where jerry put in an appearance about once every two weeks, and he only had a mild buzz on, from the couple of drinks he needed after his ordeal.
roselle had spent the morning in a hotel on tenth avenue with a cab driver who was of course also an artist, and they had enjoyed a couple of reefers, and she was in a very mellow mood.
which was in no way spoiled by the light rain that was falling when they met.
they retreated from the park bench to a small coffee shop on the other side of the street.
which turned out to be empty. it was just after two o'clock, and the lunchtime customers, if there had been any, were gone.
jerry and roselle purchased cups of black coffee and jelly doughnuts from the disgustingly friendly little woman behind the counter , and sat at one of the three small tables, the one closest to the window.
jerry did not seem much in the mood for fun, but roselle was planning an attack on the woman at the counter when the small bell above the door rang, and a man walked in.
the man was about thirty, neither fat nor thin, short nor tall, and kind of shabby, one or two steps up from a complete bum . the friendly woman addressed him as "sir" and not by name when he bought a cup of tea and a danish so he probably was not a regular customer.
he took a seat at the table furthest from the window, without glancing at jerry and roselle.
jerry was not in the mood. the guy didn't inspire any humorous thoughts in him, and besides, the place was so small and empty he was certain to hear anything they said.
all jerry wanted to do after his hard morning in the office was finish his coffee and doughnut and find a dark bar and get smashed. if roselle didn't want to come with him she could go shopping or to a movie.
the man at the other table took out a handkerchief and placed it in the saucer under his tea cup. then he took his spoon and squeezed the tea bag against the inside of the cup with it.
"darling," said roselle in a loud voice, "do you remember my aunt betsy?"
oh no, thought jerry. "aunt betsy" was a fictional character, one of many jerry and roselle used when they wanted to actively antagonize one of their targets.
"sort of," jerry answered, in a tone indicating he wasn't quite up to playing along with her.
"well, she used to squeeze her teabag in her cup the way that man just did. i thought it was the most disgusting little old lady thing. even from a real little old lady, let alone from a grown man- ohhh!" roselle pressed her hand to her throat. "i don't think i've ever seen such a thing anywhere else, not even from the biggest pansies on park avenue."
the man was startled. he made no pretense of not hearing her, but stared right at her.
"excuse me," roselle asked him, "but why are you looking at me like that? are you eavesdropping on us?"
the man did not reply. he had seemed nondescript when he came in, but now jerry thought he had a real mean look in his eyes.
not that jerry didn't think he could handle him if he had to. but what a bore.
roselle was enjoying herself. she raised her eyebrows at the man. "hmmm? were you listening to our private conversation?"
"i know you," the man said.
"i seen you two before. pulling this same kind of malarkey. trying to rile people up, just for fun. and because you think you own the earth."
"really? you don't think we should own the earth? are you some kind of red?"
the man ignored this. "yeah. somewhere downtown. bennie's on 44th street maybe?"
roselle laughed. "bennie's on 44th street? i am afraid that doesn't sound like quite the sort of place we frequent.."
"somewhere else, then. but i seen you."
"look here, fellow," jerry put in. "that's quite enough."
"you started it," the man answered.
"hey, hey!" the woman behind the counter cried. "that's enough! this is a coffee shop, not a barroom on the bowery. we are in the shadow of columbia university, where they developed the atomic bomb, so let's act civilized."
jerry wasn't sure she had her facts straight, but he nodded to the man. "if my wife's sense of humor doesn't sit well with you, that's just too damned bad. it's a small place, do you expect us to whisper?"
the man stood up. "where do you think you get off making fun of me?"
"where do i get off? i get off because i go to bed at night on east 85th street, and you look like you sleep in the back row of a movie theater on 42nd street, how does that suit you?"
"nobody talks to humphrey p strawfeather that way."
roselle whooped with laughter at the man's name. "humphrey! oh humphrey!"
now the little woman came out from behind her counter. "i said that's enough! do i have to call a cop?"
"no, lady, you don't have to call no cop," humphrey p strawfeather assured her. "i ain't starting nothing - here." he picked up his cup and for a second jerry thought he was going to throw the tea in his face, but he drank it down in one gulp. then he wrapped the danish in the handkerchief he had put across the saucer, and put it in his pocket.
"see you around, pal." he touched his hat, which he had never taken off, and left.
"my, my, that was exciting," roselle laughed. "he actually threatened you." her eyes widened in mock horror. "maybe we should call the police. or - i know! - hire a private eye to track him down."
jerry managed a laugh too. "well, if that was his his real name, and he's in the phone book - which is rather doubtful - they shouldn't have any problem."
the little woman went back behind the counter. her friendly manner had completely vanished.
"let's get out of here," jerry said. he stood up and took out his wallet.
"all right," roselle wolfed down her doughnut with a swig of coffee.
"look here." jerry approached the woman at the counter. "we are sorry we caused you any inconvenience or made you nervous. let me make it up to you." he put a twenty dollar bill on the counter.
she looked at him warily but picked it up.
"now what?" roselle asked when they got outside. the rain had stopped, but it looked as if it might start up again at any minute.
"now what? i'm going to find the darkest bar i can and drink everything they have behind it. you can come with me if you like. or you can go shopping or - "
"yes, i think i'll go shopping."
"fine. i'll see you tonight." turning up he lapels of his jacket against the wind, jerry pointed himself downtown.
"don't forget - marge and chester are coming over at nine tonight."
"enjoy your afternoon." roselle watched as jerry moved away.
perfect, she thought. she had no intention of shopping unless she had to.
she had noticed humphrey p strawfeather heading uptown and she had decided to try to follow him.