Wednesday, April 29, 2015

fun, part 15

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.

jerry suspects 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.

stopping outside of syracuse with his new acquaintance pandora wilson on his way to meet whitey in rochester, he buys a newspaper with a sensational headline. a body identified as roselle's has been discovered in an alley in brooklyn.

earlier that evening roselle had been seen leaving her apartment with a mysterious stranger...


as she exited the apartment building with “miss philomena wilson”, roselle nodded to the doorman - a young doorman that she barely recognized, but vaguely remembered seeing once or twice before.

she gave him just enough of a nod that he would not think anything was wrong, but not enough to invite any conversation. not that roselle was ever much for conversation with doormen or other servants.

out in the street the rain and wind had picked up. “miss wilson’s” sturdy black umbrella was big enough to keep both herself and roselle reasonably dry.

“there is a cab waiting just a block away,” agnes announced in her normal voice as soon as they were out of the doorman’s hearing.

roselle just nodded. she saw nothing unusual in keeping a cab waiting for the hour or so agnes had been in her apartment.

a green cab with “five city cab” painted on it was parked in a wide alley between a bar and a second hand bookstore.

roselle had never noticed or heard of “five city cab”. agnes opened the rear door and motioned roselle into the cab.

when agnes got in and closed the door, the driver started up without agnes speaking to him and drove out of the alley and headed downtown.

agnes took her big hat and veil off and tossed it on the seat between herself and roselle. then she lit a cigarette.

roselle noticed that the meter was not running. agnes opened her window a crack to blow smoke out and a little rain came in.

traffic was light. they were in the seventies before roselle started registering where they were. neither agnes nor the driver spoke.

roselle forced herself to open her purse, take out a cigarette and light it without her hands shaking.

“this isn’t a real cab,” she told agnes.

agnes flicked some ash into the ashtray. “sure it’s a real cab. it says cab right on it, doesn’t it?”

“why isn’t the meter on?”

“because i rented it for the night.”

roselle didn’t answer. the rain beat a little harder on the window. they picked up broadway at 71st street.

“can i ask where we are going?” roselle asked after a few more blocks.

“i told you. to meet some people.”

“yes, i know that. but where are we going to meet them?”

agnes smiled. “you didn’t ask before. it was enough that we were going to meet some people.”

“but i’m asking now.” i am doing a pretty good job, thought roselle, of not appearing nervous.

“i suppose it won’t hurt to tell her, will it, maxie?” agnes asked the driver.

“it’s up to you,” the driver answered. it was the first time the driver had spoken. he had his cap down over his eyes, and in the dark cab roselle couldn’t tell if he was young or old, or light or dark. he sounded old.

maxie! what a banal name. right out of a movie. roselle wondered if he had been a boxer. that would be perfect.

maxie glanced in the rear view mirror at roselle. “you think that’s a real banal name, right? right out of a movie.”

roselle didn’t answer.

“and you are wondering whether i was a boxer. or maybe a longshoreman.”

agnes laughed. “ maxie is a mind reader. and a good one.”

“no, i was wondering if you were adolf hitler,” roselle told maxie.

maxie ignored this. “you think just because i am a cab driver, i can’t read minds,” he continued. he had a slight accent roselle could not place.

“well, if you can read minds, why are you a cab driver?” roselle knew it sounded weak.

“the upheaval of civilization, miss. the upheaval of civilization. men are driving cabs and washing dishes and waiting on tables who were scientists and philosophers and mathematicians in their own countries - countries that have been destroyed. so why not a poor mind reader?”

“that’s great,” roselle answered. “i can read time magazine too. if you can read my mind you can see i am still wondering where we are going.”

“brooklyn,” agnes told her. she was lighting another cigarette.

“brooklyn,” roselle repeated.

“does that surprise you?” agnes asked.

“a little.” roselle shrugged. “somehow i pictured we were going to the waterfront. you know, being mysterious and dark and all.”

“we might be. there’s waterfronts in brooklyn,” agnes answered.

“there are waterfronts everywhere , miss,” maxie added. “civilizations are all based on waterfronts. and the great clashes and upheavals of civilizations usually involve water and waterfronts.”

agnes laughed. “and dark and mysterious deeds are done on waterfronts. which are everywhere.”

“all right,” said roselle. “so let’s go to the waterfront. and get civilized. or dark and mysterious.”

“or both,” said agnes.

“civilization is dark and mysterious,” pronounced maxie. “existence is dark and mysterious, wouldn’t you agree?”

“sure.” roselle decided to change the subject. “you know, i’m not really that familiar with brooklyn.”

“everybody has places they are not familiar with,” agnes said. “take me, for instance. i am not familiar with richmond, indiana. or knoxville , tennessee. or johnnnesburg, or rangoon. i don’t even know what country rangoon is in.”

“how about you, maxie?” roselle asked. “i bet you’ve been around the block and all around the world and are familiar with all sorts of places. even rangoon. i bet you’ve seen and done all sorts of things .”

“i’ve seen what i’ve seen, and done what i’ve done.”

“haven’t we all?” roselle looked out the window.

they were approaching times square. the rain was letting up a little.

maxie stopped for a red light at 47th street. agnes rolled her window half way down and tossed her cigarette out into the wind.

a tall ragged man with a long black beard and a black homburg was walking by and the glowing butt just missed him.

he turned and looked at agnes through the rain with blazing eyes.

“desperation!” he shouted. “desperation!”

agnes rolled the window back up. “that’s a new one,” she laughed. “it’s usually despair - despair all ye sinners.”

“despair and desperation are one and the same,” maxie answered. “the dark twin sisters of eternity.”

do they always talk like this, roselle wondered. what a couple of bores. especially him.

they are probably going to kill me, and they are just boring.

part 16

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