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.
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.”
“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."