Wednesday, May 27, 2015

fun, part 18

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...

suspicious of the mysterious stranger's motives, roselle escapes from her and enters a dark bar, where she encounters "blackie" bascomb...


roselle never had any hesitation about being rude, not even with people with as much money as herself.

she couldn’t remember - was blackie bascomb really rich, like herself, or just a parasite or pilot fish like so many of the people she sort of had to put up with and was expected to be nice to?

not that she really cared - he had been nice enough to buy her a drink in her somewhat embarrassing circumstance, so she might as well be nice and listen to his no doubt boring war story, as least as long she was drinking.

blackie was staring into his glass - no doubt preparing for the dramatic beginning of his tale.

it was quiet in the bar. no other customers had come in. the juke box was silent, which suited roselle just fine.

she could feel the rain and wind outside although she could not actually hear them.

she took a sip of her glass of absinthe. suddenly she felt almost peaceful. she felt that way about once every two years.

blackie began his story.


“ … i had no idea what i was doing, but i took some comfort in the fact that nobody else seemed to know what they were doing either.

i was in g-2, or s-2 or some damn 2. somebody told me 2 stood for intelligence. i never knew why.

sometimes we heard what sounded like guns way ahead in the distance, but half the time it was just thunder.

one thing we had plenty of was maps. maps of this, maps of that, all sorts of maps.

as a child i had always loved maps, especially ones with bright colors where every country or state or province or continent was a different color. the way they should be.

barlow would see me looking at maps and nod approvingly. ‘like maps, eh?’ he would say. ’just the sort of fellow we need.’

major barlow was my superior officer. he was from minnesota or some such place. we got along well as he was a dull fellow like me.

our main occupation and subject of conversation was getting something to drink. not that we couldn’t get anything at all - but we couldn’t drink all day, which was what i liked to do.

anyway - to get on with my story - one day i got a letter. i am sure you heard a great deal during the war about how much soldiers loved letters.”

roselle nodded.

“the letter was from my cousin anastasia - an old woman, a second cousin or some such but i remembered her from newport. and in the letter she told me that since i ‘was in the area’ i should look up another cousin, the countess m——————, who lived in a castle in the ‘principality ‘ of somewhere or other.

i showed the letter to barlow, thinking he might get a chuckle out of it. but he brightened right up when he read it. his first thought was maybe we should look her up - ‘she might have something good to drink .’

“but,’ i protested, ‘we may not be within a thousand miles of the place.’ even with the maps, i really had not much idea where we were - i knew we had landed in france but were we still in it? we could have been in france, germany, algeria, norway, japan - i thought i had heard some talk of going to japan.

barlow just laughed. he had kind of a nasty little farmer’s laugh. ‘just look at your maps, brother - isn’t that what they are for?” barlow addressed everybody as ‘brother’ - it seemed to be some kind of midwestern prole thing.

so i looked at some maps, and looked at them again to be sure, and wouldn’t you know it - the countess’s castle was only about seventy miles due south of where we were - it turned out we were in germany and the castle was down by the swiss border.

i was hesitant. ‘who will run the unit? and what if we have to move out suddenly?’

‘wilson will run the unit. he runs it now.’ wilson was a pfc, about 18 years old. ‘or lieutenant havers, if anybody asks, which they won’t. come on, brother, this is a chance for some real food and drink. on fine china, in crystal goblets.’

‘and if they have to move out? we’ll be seventy miles away.’

‘a nice morning’s drive. we can always catch up.’

so we started out the next morning, just the two of us in a jeep. with the maps. it turned out they were not much use.”

blackie paused in his story, and took a healthy sip of his martini. he, roselle, and the bartender were still the only persons in the bar.

“we would have been better off with just a compass, heading due south. and the more lost we got, the more determined barlow was to find the castle. he kept insisting it was a long day, and we had plenty of time.

anyway, we finally found the castle, and it really was a castle, which for some reason surprised me. it was in halfway decent shape, though it did not seem to be teeming with servants.

a nasty looking, very fit and trim - and young - fellow seemed to be a sort of major domo. i wondered why he wasn’t in uniform but of course i didn’t say anything.

i explained to the major domo who we were - that i was an american cousin of the countess and barlow was a fellow officer. he left us in a small parlor just off the front hall and went away.

after about ten minutes he returned and told us the countess would see us and led us up a long circular staircase to the second floor.

the countess received us in a sort of drawing room, with the windows facing east. the sun was starting to go down but there were no lights on, or candles. i noticed there were only a couple of paintings on the walls. they looked like family portraits, and were extremely hideous.

the countess looked to be about sixty, dressed very plainly in gray. she didn’t get up when barlow and i entered, just stared at us.

barlow, of course, was as easy as babe ruth or al capone meeting the queen of spain. he sat down without being invited and started right in on how we were ‘weary travelers’ who could use some food and drink, etc.

‘i dine at nine o’clock,’ was the countess’s response.

barlow found this amusing. he laughed, leaned back, and patted his stomach. ‘we can wait,’ he told the countess, ‘ but i warn you - this country boy can clean a plate with the best of them.’

the countess seemed neither fazed nor amused. she stared at barlow for a few seconds. ‘perhaps some tea and cakes will somewhat assuage your ravenousness, major.’

‘bring them on.’ barlow settled himself more comfortably in his chair.

the countess rang a little bell she had on a table beside her. i could hardly hear it, but a maid appeared right away.

the maid was young and looked even meaner than the manservant. she might have been his twin sister. the countess said something to her in french that i couldn’t catch and she slipped away without ever looking at barlow or myself.

the countess looked directly at me. like i said, i’m not the sharpest fellow but i could sense right away that she wanted something from me.

and that no matter how much of a lout barlow acted, she was going to ignore him and zero in on me."

part 19

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


by fred flynn

illustrated by roy dismas

originally appeared in the september-october 1951 issue of savage space stories

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

brad wilson lit up a cigar, careful not to blow smoke in the direction of daisy miller, his new secretary who had informed him that she did not approve of smoking.

the first assault had gone with surprising ease.

the pandemonian empire’s navy had fallen back to their previous positions in sector gamma-9 and it seemed that they had not left any troops behind to fight a rear guard action.

they had simply retreated. there was not a flicker of activity showing in the window of brad’s command ship - just the black depths of space. with a few flickering familiar stars.

now that it was done, brad could admit to himself that he had been a little nervous. after all, although he had been involved in dozens of major operations, often in the front formations, it was his first command of a whole assault sector.

sparks had cranked up the phone and general parker was on the line.

“not bad, my boy, not bad,” brad heard the general growl. “not bad for a rookie. you will have to hold up for a bit to let those other country boys come crawling up level with you.” the general paused, no doubt to take a puff of his ever-present black stogie.

brad held his breath.

“damn fine job.” the general’s highest praise.

“thank you, sir - “ brad started to say, but the general had already hung up.

the second assault was mounted as soon as the other fellows had brought their formations up in line with brad’s and it went even faster than the first.

now the assault ships of the human federation began to form a loose circle around the home system of the ancient empire of pandemonia.

brad’s assault force had suffered few casualties, and from the speed with which they advanced, the other fellows forces did not seem to have either.

once again general parker was on the line. this time he sounded like he was almost laughing. “damn son! that was almost too easy! ready to go in and finish those ugly bastards off?”

out of the corner of his eye brad could see miss miller flinch at the general’s uncouth language. well - well, that was just too bad about her. they were winning a war!

“i’m ready, sir,” brad replied into the phone.

“good. good. now here’s what i want you to do. you’ve done such damn fine work this day i want you to personally take the capital. i want you to go right in there and plant the human flag in those blue bastards' headquarters. think you can do that?”

brad knew that the general did not approve of equivocations like “i’ll try” or “i’ll do my best”.

“i’ll do it, sir,” he answered firmly.

“good,” and the general hung up.

it seemed like only a matter of a few hours before the towers of the capital of pandemonia swam into view and the crew of brad’s command ship were outfitting a landing craft.

the pandemonian navy and army had melted away.

the human armada had suffered almost no losses, although a few ships had to be detailed to transport back the large number of pandemonian prisoners.

the landing craft was ready. brad climbed into the front passenger seat. miss miller was at the controls. sparks was in the back seat with the radio, along with ensign bradley with the small human flag that would be planted in front of pandemonian headquarters.

of course a larger flag would be planted with proper ceremony, later.

three other larger landing craft were filled with soldiers and marines with gleaming weapons. one gung ho young fellow had a knife between his teeth. that was the kind of attitude brad liked to see.

the hatch of the ship lifted. miss miller pressed the blue button on the dashboard and the craft sailed out into space.

brad’s heart swelled with pride. if only mom and dad and sis and uncle joe could see him now!

well, there would be time for pictures and medals and parades later.

if there was one tiny thing marring brad’s good mood, it was miss miller. jeez, what a frosty dame!

she had a nice face and a swell figure but couldn’t she smile once in a while? come on, sweetie, we’re winning the war!

the pandemonian headquarters was completely deserted. the soldiers and marines took their weapons off their shoulders but it didn’t seem they really had to.

there was no dirt or grass around the golden steps of the headquarters and ensign bradley looked around uncertainly for a place to plant the flag.

brad just nodded at him. “i am sure you will find a way,” he told him.

“yes, sir.” ensign bradley moved away.

sparks looked up at the clear green pandemonian sky. “i will notify command we are here, sir,” he told brad. “i think i can get a better reception out here.”

“very good,” brad told him. “but come inside and join us when you are through.”

sergeant buxton stepped up. “want a couple of men to accompany you inside, sir?”

brad looked around. he patted the blaster on his hip. “no, sergeant, i think you all would be better employed out here.”

“very good, sir.”

with one more look around, brad and miss miller started up the golden steps, brad with his blaster, miss miller with her little notebook.

the headquarters building was as deserted as expected. they walked down the echoing marble corridors.

to the emperor’s private office. the door was open.

the office contained only a large desk, carved out of some kind of red wood, a chair and a small wastebasket. a large window behind the desk provided a panoramic view of the capital city.

brad broke the silence. “looks like they didn’t leave much behind,”

miss miller looked around. she pointed to the floor beside the desk. “look.”

a crumpled scrap of paper, barely visible, was on the floor between the back leg of the desk and the wastebasket, as if someone had tossed it and missed the basket.

brad picked it up. a few words were written on it.

“you read pandemonian, miss miller. what does it say?” he handed it to her.

miss miller smoothed the note out in her slender fingers. “it says - ‘we have them where we want them now.’”

brad laughed. “yes, that’s what all the losers say.” he took the note back from miss miller, crumpled it again and tossed it into the empty wastebasket.

he looked out the big window. the red sun was rising almost out of sight, and the green sky was turning a pale blue.

“write this down, miss miller.” brad turned to see if miss miller had her pencil ready.

but miss miller was gone.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

fun, part 17

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.

arriving in rochester in the early hours of morning, jerry enters an all-night diner and discovers whitey...


ruby couldn’t sleep.

the rooming house was quiet.

she had a hard time sleeping when it was quiet because it gave her the creeps, and she had a hard time sleeping when any of the roomers were making noise.

she squinted at her alarm clock in the moonlight. almost five o’clock.

she might as well get up.

get up and make coffee and think about her troubles. before the day started and she had to deal with the stupid roomers and their moronic complaints and problems.

it was still dark out. it wouldn’t be for much longer.

she wondered if whitey would drop by - to check up on her, although he wouldn’t come out and say so - when he finished his shift at the diner.

whenever that was. she never bothered to try to keep track.

whitey! ruby didn’t feel like looking at his stupid face.

with a groan, ruby got herself out of bed and put on her bathrobe.

she switched on the little lamp beside the bed. giving herself just enough light to see by and not have to look at the crummy room.

she switched the hot plate on and started to make coffee.

the hot plate! every time she turned on or looked at the hot plate she wanted to throw it through the window.

the hot plate, as much as anything, signified to ruby the crumminess of her existence.

she deserved butlers and maids and a swimming pool, not a goddamned hot plate that she had to make her own lousy coffee on!

it was all that loser whitey’s fault. and to think she had had such big plans for him.

running his lousy diners and rooming houses, not enough nerve to run more than a little numbers or bookmaking on the side…

and so far as ruby could see, not even trying to set up a big score...

the coffee was ready. ruby poured herself a cup and lit her first cigarette of the day.

ruby always waited until her coffee was ready before she lit up. only slobs and hillbillies lit up first thing when they got out of bed. her mama had taught her that.

of course if she had a maid to bring her her coffee - like she should have - maybe she would light up if the maid was slow.

of course if the maid was slow she wouldn’t last long...

ruby sat down beside the window but didn’t open it or open the curtains.

she could hear a few cars and trucks go by outside.

a big score, she thought for the thousandth time.

that was the difference between whitey and frankie. of course there were a lot of differences between whitey and frankie - didn’t she know it - but that was the biggest one.

frankie was always looking for the big score. he lived for the big score.

not like mister creep along, look both ways before you cross the street whitey.

poor frankie, doing forty to sixty in the kentucky state penitentiary. how ruby wished she was close enough to go visit him. and to think she had been dumb enough to believe whitey and his big talk about trying to spring frankie…

ruby had stopped pestering whitey about it and of course whitey himself never brought the subject up.

so poor frankie was left to rot, while whitey, who wasn’t anywhere close to half the man, walked down the street whistling, free as a little bird.

it just wasn’t right. but ruby knew one thing.

she knew how to bide her time.

was that someone at the front door? ruby listened.

the front door had opened. there was somebody outside in the hall.

ruby didn’t like being on the first floor but whitey insisted because she was running the place.

it had to be whitey. none of the roomers, if they were coming in this late, would be that quiet.

ruby got up and opened her door a crack and peeked out.

it was whitey, and he had two people with him. a man and a woman. the three of them filled the small hallway, especially as the woman was so fat.

it looked like whitey and the woman were trying to help the man up the stairs. though they were not actually carrying him.

ruby tightened her bathrobe around her waist. she stepped out in to the hall.

whitey didn’t bat an eye when he saw her. “hey ruby, you’re up. we didn’t want to disturb you.”

“who’s we? and what’s going on?”

“i was going to leave a note under your door. i’d like you to meet a couple of friends of mine -

this is jerry and this is pandora. they’ll be staying for a few days at least.”

pandora? what kind of name was that? pandora smiled brightly at ruby and jerry kind of nodded, but maybe he was just swaying on his feet.

ruby was getting a closer look at the newcomers. the guy wasn’t half bad looking, and wearing a good, though wrinkled suit. a really good suit, like aly khan or the duke of windsor would wear.

ruby was an avid reader of life and look magazines.

the woman was not so well dressed. she looked like a big city person, kind of silly with her little beret, like she thought she was in paris or someplace. and what a hippo! ruby was glad she was running just a rooming house and not a boarding house so she wouldn’t have to try to feed the creature.

“charmed, i’m sure,” ruby finally answered. “what rooms are you putting them in?”

“number 8. it’s empty, right?” number 8, on the second floor, was one of the few rooms that could be called a double.

“you’re putting them both in number 8? are they married?”

whitey rolled his eyes. both he and pandora laughed. “uh - not that i heard.”

“it’s not funny,” ruby told whitey. “you’re the one who wants me to run a respectable place. i’m the one who will get rousted for running a disreputable place - “

“what’s this about disreputable?” jerry blurted out.

whitey patted him on the shoulder. “nothing, old boy. everything is o k. look,” he said to ruby, “if you are worried about it i can get doc or pop over here later today with a license and a bible and they can get married. all right?”

he glanced over at pandora but she looked greatly amused by the whole thing. “i don’t think j edgar hoover will be here before then, do you?”

“why can’t they just get separate rooms?” ruby insisted.

“uh - maybe we can,” pandora answered. “why don’t we just get jerry here up to the room - he’s tired - “

“yeah, i see his type of tired every day.”

pandora ignored this. “ and then we will come down and talk about it.”

“that’s a great idea,” whitey added. he looked at ruby. “we will be back down and explain everything.”

ruby shrugged. “whatever you say. you own the place.”

“we’ll explain everything,” whitey repeated. he turned to jerry. “you all right there, buddy?”

but jerry had passed out again, and pandora was holding him up.

“this could be the start of something big,” whitey told ruby.

part 18

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

fun, part 16

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...


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.

the light was still red. on a sudden impulse, roselle grabbed her purse and opened the door and stepped out onto the middle of the street. there were two lanes of traffic between her and the sidewalk.

the light changed and she ran in front of another cab and a limo onto the curb as their horns blared at her.

safely reaching the sidewalk she turned and saw the green cab, with the car behind it blasting its horn, move across 47th street.

ha ha! well, roselle thought, i guess i didn’t want any more excitement than that after all.

that was enough excitement for one night. she was conscious of the rain on her face.

it was good to be alive!

roselle started walking back uptown. she kept glancing over her shoulder to see if agnes had gotten out of the cab and was following her.

after half a block she decided she was safe.

she decided to celebrate.

she went into the first bar she came to. she didn’t recognize it, t looked like just another bar, not high class, not a complete dump.

but it was kind of dark. the bar itself was long, with only one patron at the far end, talking to the one bartender.

roselle was in no hurry. the bar was pleasantly cool and dry. she took her hat off and tossed it on the seat beside her. she took her cigarettes and lighter out of her purse.

she reached deeper into the purse for her wallet. she rummaged around for it.

it was gone.


“what now, genius?” maxie asked agnes as he was forced to move the cab across 47th street in the flow of traffic.

“don’t worry about it. we can still make this work.”

“you think so? omar is not going to be too pleased. you sure you don’t want to go back and try to catch her?”

“that wouldn’t work.” agnes blew some smoke out the window. “i never did think she would come with us. i was surprised she did. but i got what i wanted.”

“oh?” maxie glanced back.

agnes held up the wallet she had lifted from roselle’s purse. “we can use this.”

“for what? has it got a million dollars in it?”

“i will use it to impersonate her.”

maxie laughed. “and who is going to impersonate you?”

“maybe nobody. maybe gloria.”

“gloria! if she is half sober.”

a jaywalker ran in front of the cab and maxie hit his brakes and blasted his horn.

“you can impersonate me,” agnes went on. “or omar can.”

“go ahead, joke about it. i don’t think omar is going to be happy.”

“i’ll worry about omar. just drive. get us back to brooklyn in one piece.”


what a bloody nuisance, roselle thought, after emptying the purse on the bar to make sure the wallet was gone. nothing else seemed to be missing. she had her change purse, with enough in it for at least a couple of drinks.

and to call jerry. he should have returned to the apartment by now.

roselle put everything back in her purse and picked it up and headed for the phone booth in a dark corner at the other end of the bar.

as she passed the solitary drinker and the bartender the drinker glanced up at her. she thought he looked familiar. but he didm’t say anything to her.

roselle closed the door of the booth and dropped her dime and called jerry.

the phone rang and rang. either jerry was not back yet or he was dead drunk, more likely the latter.

“your party is not answering,” the operator’s voice came on.

“thank you, i will try later.” roselle retrieved her dime when it fell down, and opened the door of the booth.

“roselle! roselle gray!”

so the drinker recognized her after all.

the man swiveled around on his stool to face her. “don’t you remember me? blackie - blackie bascomb.”

roselle sort of remembered him. she gave him her best half-hearted effort at a friendly smile. blackie bascomb. from newport? from richmond?

blackie - did he have a real first name or ever use one? - must have been her own age, but looked at least ten years older, surely from drink. he sported a pencil mustache and slicked back hair in the style of pre-war days.

“of course, blackie. how could i forget you?” roselle sat down on the stool beside him. “why don’t you buy a lady a drink?”

“of course.” blackie smiled uncertainly, showing a fine set of dentures. probably had his teeth knocked out in a fight. now roselle remembered - blackie had always been a fighter, but not much of one.

“you can buy me a lot of drinks, if you like.” roselle almost laughed in blackie’s confused face. “i lost my wallet. honest. “ she smiled. “ i will pay you back, if you like.”

“yes, yes, of course. but - look here - why don’t you open a tab here.” blackie turned to the bartender, who had been watching and listening with a dead pan. “look here, joe, i can vouch for this lady.”

“can you, mister bascomb?”

“she’s - she’s a gray - of the shipping empire grays. she’s got enough money to burn every wet mule in the state of kentucky and the state of tennessee too, ha ha!”

“if it’s all the same, mister bascomb, i think we will put the lady’s drinks on your tab, and you can adjust the matter between yourselves.”

“right, right,” blackie glanced at roselle. if she was insulted, she was not showing it. “well, what will you have?”

“a green thunderbolt.”

“i’m sorry, miss,” said the bartender. “but i am not familiar with that particular drink.”

“fill a clean glass with absinthe.”

“very good.”

“and another maritini for me, joe,” blackie added.

joe turned away to get the drinks. roselle once again took her cigarettes out.

“well, blackie, old boy, what have you been up to?”

“ah - there was a war, you know.”

christ, thought roselle, i’m in for it now.

part 17