Tuesday, January 13, 2015

fun, part 7

by harold p sternhagen writing as "ralph desmond"

as originally appearing in the july-august 1951 issue of sinister destinies magazine

illustrated by konrad kraus

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

for previous episode of "fun" , click here

to begin "fun", click here

in our previous chapters, we met jerry and roselle winfield, socialites and slummers extraordinaire.

roselle has enticed the drifter "humphey p strawfeather" to help her murder jerry.

jerry has intuited that roselle intends to kill him.

and he seeks to locate his old army buddy "whitey" wilson to help him avoid this fate, perhaps by murdering roselle.


jerry had made up his mind to try to contact whitey wilson. he had his address in rochester from the woman in north carolina - mother or aunt or whatever she was.

bus, train, or take a cab all the way to rochester?

jerry was not even sure where rochester was. he knew it was west somewhere, away from the atlantic ocean. about as far as albany? further?

he decided to get a cab to the port authority. if a bus was leaving for rochester any time soon he would take it. if not, he would try penn station.

it was still raining. he stopped under an awning in front of a little grocery store. the window was made of thick green glass and hard to see through, but it was lit up indicating the store was still open. it seemed as good a place as any to hail a cab.

jerry took a deep breath, shook some rain off his hat and himself, and took out his cigarettes.

"take your time, lady."

there was one customer left inside the grocery store . harry, the sole owner and proprietor, was ready to close up, but he waited for her, not too impatiently, because he recognized her and she had always bought something before.

pandora wilson liked to shop. for everything. she liked to take her time when she shopped for clothes, when she shopped for food, when she went to the drugstore to buy toothpaste. when she went to the movies, it was always on 42nd street, where she could walk up and down and look at the billboards outside before deciding which double feature to see..

she even shopped for cigarettes, and never bought the same brand two times in a row.

now she was checking out the grapes in harry's market. she held a bunch up to the not very bright light.

besides shopping, pandora liked to talk, to anybody who would listen to her. she wondered if she should try to chat up the little guy who seemed to own the place. he looked like he was ready to close up. she had been in here a few times before, but always when it was busy and she had never had the chance to talk to him.

pandora saw something out of the corner of her eye. the windows of the store were thick glass but the door was clearer glass, and a man was standing in front of it.

his back was turned but it looked like the guy she had just seen in willa's cafe - the not bad looking, well dressed but kind of creepy looking guy who wanted the change for a long distance call.

she watched as he turned his head to look up the street - it was him!

was he following her? what a nerve! or maybe he was just waiting for a bus. pandora decided to challenge him - that would be fun.

she took the grapes that she had in her hand, and grabbed a couple of bananas she had checked out before, and went over to pay for them.

"we meet again, " said a voice behind jerry.

he jumped almost a foot. my nerves must really be shot, he thought as he turned around.

the voice belonged to the fat woman from the cafe, the one in the pink sweater, which was now covered up by her coat.

pandora was a little disappointed - and a little relieved - by the genuine surprise she saw on jerry's face, but she still asked, "are you following me?"

"uh - no." jerry, recovered from being startled, did not even look annoyed by the question. he turned to look back up the street.

"waiting for a bus?"


"then why are you standing out here - if you don't mind my asking?"

if i don't mind her asking. what idiots people were, thought jerry. "no, i'm waiting for a cab."

"oh, you'll never get a cab here."

"it's west end avenue."

"yes, but there are never any cabs on this stretch, especially at this time of night."

"you don't say."

"yes, it's a well-attested fact. you could look it up in the world almanac. city planners and scientists alike are baffled by the phenomenon."

jerry looked up the street, into the rain. it was kind of strange that no cabs had come along.

he turned back to pandora. "so you know a lot about cabs, hey?"

"you might be surprised at what i know."

"how much would a cab to rochester cost?"

pandora considered the question. "rochester new york?"

"yes. are there any other rochesters?"

"of course. there are thirteen rochesters in the united states alone, not counting two east rochesters."

jerry stared at her. the rain continued to beat on the awning above their heads. "thirteen, huh? pretty unlucky."

"yes, there is rochester vermont, rochester ohio..."

"all right, i believe you. do you know how far rochester new york is - approximately?"

"i know exactly how far it is - 335 miles."

"oh. so how much would a cab cost ? if i could find one that would take me."

"well, in the first place, they might not even be licensed to do it."

jerry laughed. "that might not be a problem."

"well, they would want about twenty cents a mile for 335 miles plus they have to drive back so call it forty cents - that is what, about $265. "

jerry thought about that.

"you have $265 on you?" pandora asked.

"i might."

"then i know someone who might help you out."


"who will do it for a flat $250. including gas."

the door opened behind them and the owner of the store stepped out. he was wearing a raincoat and a fisherman's rain hat and carrying a pole to roll up the awning.

"sorry, folks."

"no problem," jerry told him, as they he and pandora stepped aside. "you know what i need?" he asked pandora. "even more than a cab?"

"no, what?"

"a drink. and look, there is a bar right across the street. why don't we continue this discussion over there?"


"all right, so you just happen to know someone who will drive me to rochester - rochester new york , not rochester vermont - for the princely sum of $250?" jerry felt much better after knocking back a double bourbon and ordering another.

he and pandora were sitting across from each other in a booth at the back of the bar across the street from harry's market.

"yeah. me," pandora told him.

jerry was not surprised. "so you have a car?"

"no, but i can get one."

jerry hesitated. "you're not going to steal one?"

pandora laughed. "hell no, i'm not going to steal one. i can borrow my uncle randy's car. he will let me use it. i might even slip him a few bucks."

"the car works all right?"

"i guess. consider this. it's not a cab. if you were in a new york cab in the middle of the night on the highway somewhere in the adirondacks you think police aren't going to be stopping you, just out of curiosity?" pandora tried to look jerry right in the eyes through the smoke of their cigarettes. "you wouldn't want that , would you?"

"no. i guess not."

the bartender brought jerry's second double bourbon.

when he had left, pandora asked, "so what is your big hurry to get to rochester anyway? you sound like you never even been there, if you didn't know where it was or how far away it was."

"an old army buddy of mine lives up there."

"and you just got this sudden urge to see him? you can't just take the train or plan your own trip? not that it's any of my business."

"i just found out he's dying. he - he was in a motorcycle accident. i want to see him before he dies."

"that shows you got a good heart," pandora smirked. "let me guess - you saved each other's lives fifteen times in the war."

"no, we were in a supply company - here in the states."


"yeah, all sorts of stuff, but our specialty was socks and underwear."

"and now you work at macy's. that's why you dress so nice."

"not exactly." jerry flushed a little. the liquor was getting to him.

pandora laughed. "you are honest about the war anyway. so many guys will tell you all about how many japs they threw over their shoulders with bayonets."

suddenly jerry thought - how do i know this - this whatever she is - isn't going to drive me out into the middle of nowhere and shoot me and dump my body by the side of the road?

he remembered a line in a movie he saw somewhere - or maybe he read it in a mystery novel -

"when you start thinking about murder, you start seeing murder everywhere."

a chill ran down his spine and sobered hm up - for about seven seconds.

he finished the second bourbon and got up from the booth to order another one.

part 8

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