originally appeared in the june 1949 issue of frontiers of space magazine
editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo
it took jerry almost as long to get his discharge papers stamped, his new earthside i d issued, and to pick up his duffel bag as it had to get from aquarius 3 back to earth.
and then the bus ride from spaceport to chicago was taking almost as long again.
mostly the bus didn't move, just sat in traffic. the sun had been setting when the bus pulled out of spaceport, now it was dark night.
but there sure were a lot of people out on the highway. where were they all going?
"there sure are a lot of folks in the world." that was one of uncle stan's sayings.
jerry wondered if uncle stan was still saying it, or of he had moved on and found something different to say.
there were only three other people on the bus, plus the driver.
in the dim light jerry couldn't tell if the driver was a man, a woman, a robot or part of the bus.
“is it always this slow?” jerry asked the driver.
the driver seemed to ignore the question, but after a few seconds answered. “pretty much.” the voice sounded like a human female but jerry couldn’t be sure.
another voice came from behind jerry. “hey, pal, just back from andromeda ?”
jerry half turned. a little man in a suit too big for him was crouched against the window a seat behind and across from him.
jerry answered politely, “no, galaxy 45.”
“damn!” said the little man, “wrong again. you know, i’ve been trying for ten years to tell the difference between people coming back from one place or another, and i just can’t get the hang of it.”
“maybe there is no difference.”
“sure, there is always differences. i just can’t figure them out. but, hey, there is one thing i do know. and do you know what that is?”
jerry played along. “no, what?”
“where a guy can go to find a good time.”
the bus driver spoke up. "delbert, leave the guy alone." jerry decided it was a woman's voice.
"but maybe he'd like to have a good time.”
“ask him when you get off the bus.”
“but - “
“he can’t have a good time on the bus, can he?”
“we can set something up.”
“not on my bus. and don’t ask him what it was like on galaxy 54 wither.”
“he said 45, not 54.”
“don’t ask him anything. just keep your lowlife mouth shut.”
delbert gave up. “yes, ma’am.” he turned and looked out the window.
so the driver was a woman. she sounded kind of tough, but a woman.
jerry felt a twinge of sympathy for delbert. “i’m meeting some friends,” he announced. “they will show me a good time.”
delbert didn’t acknowledge jerry’s statement. the bus driver didn’t say anything either.
actually he was meeting two “friends” - uncle stan and his pal moe. if they showed up. or didn’t get tired of waiting for him and bail out.
the bus moved a few feet forward. it had fallen completely silent.
jerry fell asleep. he dreamed, as he often did, that he was back in uncle stan’s ice cream and candy store.
it was dark in the store. jerry wanted some candy. but the candy was the monster and the monster was the candy. the street outside the store was filled with water and the water was filled with sharks and alligators.
“what’s the problem, kid?” the monster asked, in the deep voice of president halbert harrington, who had been assassinated during the devonian uprising. “it’s only candy. and besides, you didn’t do your homework.”
jerry was trapped. in the darkness. with nowhere to turn.
“wake up.” jerry felt a hand on his shoulder. he jerked awake. he saw somebody - the driver? - walking away from him down the aisle and off the bus.
jerry stood up. he was the only person left on the bus. he looked up at the overhead rack for his duffel bag, then remembered he had checked it at spaceport.
he got off the bus. the driver was talking to a little guy beside the open luggage compartment. jerry’s duffel bag was on the ground between them.
they kept talking and ignored jerry as he reached out and grabbed the bag. but jerry got his first look at the driver. who was indeed a woman.
and what a look! and what a woman! what a dame! how dark must that bus have been that he didn’t really see her before?
what was jerry doing in space all these years when something like this was back on earth?
she had a set of curves that made the andromeda-ceres space warp look as straight as the barrel of granddad’s old 1873 winchester!
and a look like a bullet right out of that winchester.
a look that made medusa’s look like a new -born puppy’s….
“can we help you, sir?” she asked.
“i,” jerry almost stammered, “i just wanted to get my bag.”
“well, now you’ve got it, haven’t you?”
jeez, thought jerry as he turned away, how come the swellest looking babes are always the frostiest?
wasn’t that one of the reasons he had spent the last seven years in deep space?
he thought about cindy. then he decided not to think about her.
his luck was going to change. it had to.
all right, where were uncle stan and moe?
they were not inside the gate. jerry looked around to make sure, then started to push through one of the glass doors.
as soon as he was inside the station he heard his name.
it was moe, running toward him on his fat little legs, holding his hat onto his head. moe was one of those guys who are born looking fifty-five years old and he still looked fifty-five years old.
jerry dropped his bag. “hello, moe.”
“jerry, i thought you’d never get here.”
“i? not we? where’s stan?” jerry looked around the station. it looked crummier than ever.
“where’s stan?” moe gasped. “ you mean you haven’t heard?”
“no, moe, how would i hear? i’ve been in deep space. and what was i supposed to hear?”
“stan’s been framed! packy miller got gunned down on the east side! we know his own boys done it but they got the d a in their pocket and they framed stan!”
sounds like old times, jerry thought. aloud he said, “ o k, moe, calm down. what exactly is the situation right now?”
“the situation? the situation right now is that stan is going to the chair!”