the rain kept falling. a wind began blowing in from the bay.
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.
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.
madame gogol handed the photo of his wife joanna back to him.
suddenly the whole thing seemed ridiculous. the whole thing about joanna being in contact with the spirit world.
or consorting with demons. or being, according to madame gogol, satan herself.
maybe he should just forget all about it.
really, what was he doing here ? sitting in this little room - what exactly was it, anyway? a tea room? the woman had served him tea, but there were no menus or prices displayed anywhere , that he could see, and just one table, the one they were sitting at.
a fortune telling establishment? there was no sign outside the door, and no crystal ball on the table.
he wished he was back in his nice warm apartment on alameda street, listening to the radio. if he got back home on time maybe he could catch "lights out".
he had missed bing crosby's chesterfield hour to go on this wild goose chase.
last week judy garland had been bing's guest. maybe she had been on again this week. now he had missed it. it had probably been a great show. and since time never returned, now he would never hear it.
yes, he wished he was back in the apartment listening to the radio, sipping a nice whiskey and soda.
joanna would be sulking around, but so what?
joanna wasn't a demon or satan, just a no good cold hearted bitch who had married him so she wouldn't have to get a job herself, and now was sick of him.
she would probably divorce him if she could find a good reason, and stick him like a pig for alimony.
the old old story, that he shared with millions of other poor saps.
suddenly chester realized that madame gogol was staring at him.
neither of them had said a word for about two minutes. the rain was beating a little harder on the window.
he felt he had to say something.
"um - what would you recommend that i do in this situation?" he asked.
"i am afraid that dealing with demons and satan is not my - my expertise. not even - what is the expression - my road game."
"but i can give you the address of someone who might be able to help you."
of course, thought chester. "is there a charge for this information?" he asked with a polite smile.
"oh no, sir, none at all!" replied madame gogol, with just a hint of being offended by the offer.
"well, thank you, then," chester replied. "do i owe you anything at all for this consultation?"
"oh, no, nothing. i am just sorry i could not have been more help. here, let me write down the address for you. miss glassworthy is the name of the person you want to see."
glassworthy - the name sounded familiar. a friend of joanna's? joanna did not have many friends. those she had were women like herself - bitchy and boring, and they blurred together in chester's mind.
joanna had a friend who was some kind of authority on satan?
a piece of paper and a thick pencil suddenly appeared in madame gogol's hand from somewhere in the folds of her robes and she quickly scratched a note and handed it to chester.
chester glanced at it. the address was on 16th street, not that far from his apartment ! probably just on the other side of seals stadium, which his apartment faced.
"do you think miss glassworthy would be available at this time of night?"
"oh yes - if she is available at all. she is very much a night person - not a day person at all."
"i see." chester took his wallet out and slipped the piece of paper into it. he glanced out the window. the rain was steady now.
"well, thank you. thank you very much. could i ask one more thing of you? could you call me a cab?"
"oh, i am sorry but i do not have a phone."
she didn't have a phone? chester remembered the detective moran saying she might not have a phone.
"but -" madame gogol continued . "there are pay phones up on fisherman's wharf. quite a few of them."
"well, thank you again." chester got up and looked around for his umbrella. he patted his pocket to mark sure that his wallet was safely in it.
the umbrella was right beside the door. chester went over and picked it up.
"the phones don't all work all the time, " madame gogol said from behind him. "try the one in front of the how do you know museum. i use it regularly, it always works."
chester nodded at her over his shoulder, and then he was out the door and back out on powell street.
the rain was coming hard a little harder and the temperature had dropped. with a slight groan chester opened his umbrella and headed for fishermans wharf without looking back.
it must be later than i thought, chester muttered to himself.
fishermans wharf seemed completely deserted. the fog was thick, and chester could not see the shadow of alcatraz in the bay.
all the little shops and cafes and souvenir stands and "museums" were closed.
i won't get home on time to hear "lights out" now, chester thought.
he headed for the covered arcade where the "museums" were located.
suddenly a figure loomed up out of the fog. chester was startled, and his umbrella shook in his hand, causing some water to splash into his left eye.
"hey pal, spare a dime?"
just a bum. chester brushed past him.
"hey, that wasn't very polite! " the bum called after him. "don't you know who i am?"
chester found the "how do you know" museum among the line of museums. a poster in front of it displayed a crude drawing of a grinning skeleton and in big red letters the question "how do you know life isn't really death?" . and in smaller, gold letters beneath it " the secret of blackbeard's treasure." and a picture of a giant lizard or dinosaur.
there were two phone booths between the how do you know museum and the next one , " the museum of perplexity". chester folded his umbrella and put it under his arm and started to reach into his pocket for a dime.
and realized that the bum, whom he had thought he had left behind, was right behind him.
chester turned to face him. he looked bigger and meaner than chester had first thought.
close up, he looked a bit familiar, but chester quickly realized why. he looked like a picture in a book. chester enjoyed reading books about desperate and violent men and he had been reading a book about the fabled desperado jack slade.
"i asked you, don't you know who i am?" the bum who looked like the picture of jack slade repeated.
"no," chester answered him, "i do not know."
suddenly the bum's manner changed. his face fell and he looked down at his feet. "that's sad, " he mumbled. "that's really sad." then he looked back up at chester. "you sure you don't want to give me a dime? how about a nickel?"
"no," chester replied, in a firmer tone. "absolutely not."
"all right, all right." the bum - who chester now thought of as "slade" - turned away. his sad face in the darkness looked like a clowns. he headed back toward the bay, muttering to himself.
chester felt proud of himself for being so decisive. and in the middle of the night, with no police or other law-abiding citizens around. he turned to enter the phone booth and reached into his pocket.
there was no change in his pocket.
he picked up the phone. there was no dial tone.
he tried dialing operator. nothing. he would need a dime.
"jack slade" had taken a seat on a bench on the wharf that was somewhat sheltered by an overhang. chester could just make him out in the darkness.
chester put his umbrella back up and left the arcade and approached "jack".
"uh - excuse me!" chester called to him in the most jovial tone he could manage.
"yeah? something i can do for you?"
"i know this must seem pretty ridiculous - heh, heh - but could you lend me a dime? heh, heh."
"yes, i just realized i don't have a dime - that i need to make my phone call."
jack looked up at him. "that's a crying shame."
"look here - i tell you what i'll do - i'll give you a dollar - you give me fifty cents change. how does that sound? you won't get a deal like that every day. or night."
"sorry, mister, you insulted me. you didn't even know my name. i have my pride."
"i'll give you the dollar for the dime. what do you say? i can't say fairer than that."
"no, i'm sorry."
"do you have a dime?"
"what kind of a question is that? who are you to ask me a question like that? you admitted you don't even know me." jack turned his face away from chester.
chester gave up. he walked back toward the arcade.
the rain kept falling. a wind began blowing in from the bay.
originally appeared in the november-december 1948 issue of strangely thrilling tales
part one of three
editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo
private detective vince moran, who had seen and done things too terrible to be described, had deep sad eyes that inspired confidence in most people. he fixed them on his client , who was sitting in vince's best chair, on the other side of his scarred and unpolished desk, in his crummy office on the third floor of a rundown building on broadway and powell street in san francisco.
"our investigation , mr parvis," he said, "has uncovered absolutely nothing. we have not found the slightest indication that your wife is seeing another man." he was not sure if mr parvis would welcome this information or not - he suspected not - and he kept his voice neutral.
chester parvis sighed, and his little mustache twitched. he was not a man who was easily inspired to confidence, or easily convinced of anything.
"but she is keeping something from me - i know it. i can feel it, every minute i spend in her company."
"that may very well be, mr parvis. but we have nothing to show it involves another man - or even another person. as far as we can tell, she just stays at home all day, and never goes anywhere at all. "
"really? not anywhere at all?"
"well, in a month, the only times she went out were twice to her hairdresser and twice to the rialto movie theater on larkin and post street. my operative followed her into the theater both times and did not see her meet anyone inside."
"i know she might not go out much, but she has things delivered. that's how she doesn't get out much."
"i know that. we never saw any of the delivery people enter the house, except -"
"yes? except - "
"the delivery boys from the grocers, and they never stayed more than a few minutes."
"really?" chester stared hard at vince, not quite glaring. "what about - johnny martin?"
vince cleared his throat. "we looked into johnny martin, based on your stated suspicions. besides the fact that he never stayed more than a few minutes, during which he was going back and forth to the delivery truck, all indications are that johnny martin is a young man of unimpeachable character, a straight "a" student, the kind of young man any man would be proud to have as a son, the kind of young man this country -"
chester held up his hand. "all right, i get it. what about the movies? did she go to the ladies room when she was there? if she did, i don't suppose your operative followed her."
"as a matter of fact, my operative was a woman, and on the first occasion your wife went to the movies she did indeed follow her into the ladies room."
"and found nothing amiss."
"hmph. how well do you trust this 'operative' of yours?"
"mr parvis," vince responded patiently, "there is only so much we can do. i can have a person follow your wife - sometimes even follow her myself. i could also have another person follow the person following your wife, in which case i would have to charge you double. and i could have a third person follow the second person, and charge you triple.
but even with all that, how can you be absolutely sure you can trust me? do you get my drift?"
"yes, mr moran, " chester sighed. "i get your drift." he turned and looked out the one window of the office. night had fallen. a few cars hissed by on broadway, in a light rain.
vince lit a camel, and put the match in his ashtray. "do you want to know the names of the movies she went to see at the rialto?"
"they will be in the report. here it is." vince took a thin folder out of the top desk drawer and pushed it across the desk. "do you want me continue for another month?"
"oh, i suppose so, one more month, anyway." chester turned back and faced vince. "you know, i still think she might be in contact with the spirit world."
the subject had come up before, and vince was ready for it. "yes, you mentioned that before. well, i can't help you out there, but there are people who claim they can."
chester's eyes behind his glasses did not exactly light up, but showed a flicker of life. "and you know any such people?"
"i know of such people. i can tell you who some of them are, if you are interested. "
"i am interested."
"let's get this straight, then. i don't work for or with them. and i do not vouch for them in any way, or take any responsibility for how effective you find them. i can just tell you who they are."
"fair enough," chester replied. he didn't believe for a moment that vince wasn't getting something from anybody he was recommending, but he didn't care.
"there's a woman over on powell street, a russian, a madame gogol."
"and she is in contact with the spirit world?"
"she claims to be."
"she sounds good enough to start with. whereabouts on powell street? can i walk down there?"
"actually up there. you have to walk up, almost to fisherman's wharf. here, i'll write her address down."
"is it a tea shop or something?"
"i don't know, i don't think so. i'm sorry, i don't have a phone number. she might not even have a phone."
"maybe she doesn't need one, being able to communicate through the ether and all."
vince smiled politely as he wrote the address down on the inside of a matchbook. he handed the matchbook to chester who glanced at it and put it in his vest pocket. the matchbook was for stan's bar on jefferson street.
"are you going over to see her now?"
vince looked out the window. the rain was falling a little harder. "do you want me to call a cab? or i could give you a lift."
"no thank you."
"all right then. i'll keep following your wife for another month. do you want me to send you a bill - "
"no, i can give you a check now, it's not a problem." chester took out a billfold. "do you have a pen?"
chester walked up powell street, under a large black umbrella that almost completely protected him from the steady but gentle rain. there were no other pedestrians. he had started at a brisk pace, but the steepness of the street forced him to slow down.
a cable car, almost empty, passed him.
madame gogol's establishment was almost at the bay, and was indeed a shop of some kind, with her name on the glass. there was no light showing within, but there was one lit over the low door.
chester stood almost a minute to catch his breath after his steep climb, and then knocked.
he was a bit startled when the door opened immediately - well, he had been standing at the door for a while - and he almost didn't see the woman standing in front of him, who was very wide and very short.
"that's me." she didn't sound russian, or anything but american, but chester didn't really know what a russian sounded like, although there were plenty of them in san francisco.
"may i come in?"
"sure." she stepped aside to let him in, and as she did she switched on a powerful overhead light which blinded him. "have a seat. here, let me take that umbrella, and your coat."
"thank you." chester's sight returned and he saw he was in a little parlor with a small round table with two large padded wicker chairs on opposite sides of it.. a large, unlit oil lamp sat in the center of the table.
"would you like some tea?"
chester was not a tea drinker but he answered "yes, thank you" as he sat down in one of the chairs.
he looked around as she went off to get the tea. there was nothing much to see. just the bare room - there was nothing on the walls - the window, and the rain outside in the dark street.
"so," madame gogol asked when she returned and put a teapot and two cups with saucers on the table, "did someone send you to me? eh? or did you just walk in?"
"mister moran - vince moran, a private detective - recommended you." chester watched as she poured two cups of tea. it was very dark, and looked very hot. no milk, cream or sugar were in evidence and he didn't mention them.
madame gogol sat down. "moran, yes - a very nice gentleman, very polite - but perhaps not a man to cross, eh?'
chester, who had no idea of "crossing" moran, just nodded at this. "he said you could contact the spirit world."
"yes, that's what i do." she took a sip of her tea. "who did you want to contact? your wife, perhaps?"
"well, it's about my wife - but i don't want to contact her."
madame gogol just looked at chester. she didn't seem surprised at his statement.
"i think she might be in contact with spirits herself."
madame gogol took another sip of tea. "ah, yes, of course. mister moran has sent people over before like - uh - who want my expertise, right?"
"exactly." chester finally took a sip of tea. it burned his tongue and he almost cried out.
"so - did you bring anything from your wife?"
"some hair, nail clippings? a scarf or article of clothing?"
"oh no - i - i just came from moran's office, i didn't know i needed anything like that."
"how about a photograph?"
"oh, i have several."
"good. may i see them please."
chester took his wallet out and carefully extracted a photo from it and handed it across the teapot to madame gogol.
she looked at it and gave a slight start. "this is your wife?"
"yes, my wife. her name is joanna,"
madame gogol stared at the picture. chester heard the rain on the window.
he took another small sip of tea. it was still very hot.
after a while madame gogol said, "i don't think i will need any hair or clothing."
"i can tell from this picture what this woman is."