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.
there was a roadblock up ahead.
nicholas ii and john dillinger had escaped from alcatraz and the police were stopping every car on the road.
fog kept drifting in and out of the back seat of the 1946 desoto.
jerry tried to sit up but he couldn't. it just wasn't worth the effort.
it all came back to him - paying pandora, the fat lady from the diner, $250 to drive him to rochester to find whitey wilson...
it had seemed like a good idea at the time.
or was it $25,000? maybe that wasn’t such a great idea. not that jerry couldn’t afford it, but you didn’t want to put ideas in people’s heads… uncle walter taught him that, along with so many other things…
jerry still could not pull himself upright from the back seat of the desoto, but he turned his head around 270 degrees and looked up over the back of the front seat.
pandora was in the passenger seat, blowing smoke rings.
and driving - actually not driving because there was the roadblock up ahead, but sitting behind the wheel, was - a gorilla? a bear? - something big, whose head scraped the ceiling of the car.
“who’s he?” jerry tried to ask, but it came out a whisper.
but pandora heard him and answered right away.
“this is frankie. he was hitching outside binghamton so i picked him up. to spell me with the driving.”
“i could’ve done that.”
pandora laughed. “i don’t think so, pal. not in the shape you were in.”
now jerry was in the front seat, beside the passenger seat window, with pandora between him and frankie. he glanced over at frankie, but still could not figure out if he was a bear or a gorilla or what. some kind of beast, or monster. he was wearing a nice suit, though the stripes were a little wide for jerry’s taste.
there were more lights outside the car now. jerry could feel people shouting.
a couple of state troopers with big hats were shining flashlights into the windows.
pandora explained. “hitler and john dillinger escaped from sing sing.”
“i know all about it,” jerry told her.
“you know all about it?” frankie asked him. “why, are you in with them?” frankie had a smooth voice, like a radio announcer.
jerry didn’t answer. he turned away and looked out the window. then he was standing outside the car, watching the state troopers coming toward them with their flashlights.
the troopers made the driver ahead of them get out and open his trunk. the driver looked like hitler but it was hard to tell because his face was covered by a scarf.
pandora got out of the car and stood beside jerry.
“they are holding amelia earhart hostage in a cabin in the pines,” she told jerry.
“i know,” jerry said.
inside the car frankie started singing “they are holding amelia earhart hostage… in a cabin in the pines…” jerry recognized the tune, but could not quite place it.
jerry and pandora were back in the car. it started to snow.
now two troopers approached the car. they were herbert hoover … or maybe it was wendell willkie … and franklin d roosevelt.
franklin d roosevelt stuck his face in the car window. his cigarette in his cigarette holder almost hit jerry in the face.
“howdy, folks. i guess you know why we are here…”
jerry woke up.
he was stretched across the back seat of the de soto. pandora was driving.
there was nobody else in the car. jerry sat up. he felt stiff, and his right arm was asleep.
it was pitch dark outside. jerry couldn’t see anything - trees, houses, anything.
pandora was humming a tune - “chattanooga choo-choo”. the radio was off.
“where are we?” jerry asked.
“almost in syracuse.”
“what time is it?”
“he clock on this thing is broken. it ’s about three o’clock.”
“why is it so dark out?” jerry leaned against the window behind pandora, shaking his buzzing right arm.
“because it’s still night time.”
“did you pick up a hitchhiker?’
“a hitchhiker? hell no, i didn’t pick up any hitchhiker.” pandora laughed. “why would i pick up a hitchhiker?”
“um - i thought you might - to spell you with the driving.”
“no, i’m doing just fine by myself, thank you very much. we’re making good time, right on schedule.”
jerry looked back and saw some lights.
it was a bus, a greyhound or trailways bus, and it swiftly moved up and passed them.
jerry felt a little better. the bus had reassured him that he and pandora were not the only people left
in the world.
he felt better about everything. if she was going to kill me and dump me somewhere, she would have done it by now, he thought.
“can you turn the radio on?”
“i tried, there’s nothing but static. hey, want to stop in syracuse? get a cup of coffee or a bite to eat?”
“we won’t go all the way into the city, just see if some place is open right outside it. there’s got to be some little place.”
“you sound like you’re still tired. go back to sleep.”
pandora was shaking jerry awake.
“where are we?”
“syracuse. or just outside it.”
jerry was fully awake. he had not been sleeping that soundly. the car was parked outside a dimly lit little diner beside a one-pump gas station.
it was still completely dark.
pandora opened a screen door and a door behind it and entered the diner.
jerry found his hat on the floor and put it on. he got out of the car and looked around. there were no other buildings in sight. he saw some trees and the highway beyond the gas station.
a little open-sided truck, like a milk truck, emerged from behind the trees.
jerry lit a cigarette and watched the truck pull up beside the desoto.
a little farmerish looking guy, with thinning hair and rimless glasses falling down his nose, got out of the truck. he had a little metal case with milk bottles in one hand and a bound stack of newspapers in the other.
he tossed the newspapers onto the ground beside the door of the diner.
jerry could see the headline:
EXTRA! HIDEOUS MURDER OF SOCIALITE
“can i buy a copy?” jerry asked the milk truck driver.
the guy looked at him. “really in a hurry for the news, huh?”
jerry felt something vaguely accusatory in his tone. he shrugged. “i just want something to read with my coffee.”
“no problem, pal.” the little man slipped a paper out of the bundle. “that will be one american nickel.”
(Slaves of Sappho was originally published as a “paperback original” by Pyramid Books in 1951 and deleted by the publisher after only one printing of 1,000 copies; at long last this unjustly-obscure classic has now finally been republished – with spelling corrected and regularized and dozens of typographical errors corrected – in Sisters in Shame: Three Forgotten Lesbian Novels by Horace P. Sternwall, the Olney Community College Press; edited by Dan Leo, Associate Professor of Pulp Literature, Olney Community College. The following excerpt is taken from this edition.)
illustrated by roy dismas
A Girl Alone in the Big City
It had been another grey and lonely day in New York City, a hot and sticky August day. And now night was falling, another hot and sticky lonely night.
Missy Hallebrand walked up Bedford Street in the direction of the apartment she shared with three other girls on Jane Street, but she couldn’t bear to go home yet, not yet, to that un-airconditioned and squalid shotgun flat festooned with drying stockings and underthings and filled with the cigarette smoke and the mindless unceasing chatter of those three twits Maddy, Teri, and Gerrie. And besides, she knew that as usual there would be nothing there to eat except maybe the dregs of a jar of peanut butter and a smear of strawberry jelly if she was lucky, and doubtless not even a single moldy Uneeda cracker to spread the stuff on.
She decided to go into the automat by the Hotel St Crispian, which was where she took most of her evening meals, meager as they were. She could nurse a cup of coffee there and read her library book, and when she got hungry enough she could treat herself to some split-pea soup and a roll.
She would linger there as long as possible, switching from coffee to water so as not to toss and turn all night in bed anymore than she would normally do, which was a lot, and then finally she would head back to the wretched sweltering apartment on Jane street, to the blaring radio and the mindless chatter of her flatmates, to the stench of cigarette smoke and cheap perfume and unwashed linens…
The automat was crowded, as it usually was at this time, 7:30 in the evening. She got her cup of coffee and found a small table by the window which looked across the alleyway to the dirty brown brick walls of the Hotel St Crispian.
Missy Hallebrand was a petite pretty blonde-haired girl of twenty-two, like thousands of other girls in this swarming madhouse of a city, except she was not a happy girl.
She wasn’t one of these laughing chattering idiots like the girls she worked with at Macy’s, or like Maddy, Teri, and Gerrie.
She was a sad girl.
She opened her purse (black, plastic, cheap, all she could afford even with her employee’s discount at the department store) and took out her book.
Thank God for the library and thank God for books.
Not that she believed in God.
“Excuse me, ahem, miss?”
These words were spoken by a tall young woman with short dark hair and a panama hat with a wide red band, wearing a sleeveless and scoop-necked black pullover of what looked like real silk and pearl-colored pongee slacks. She had a large brown-leather bag on her shoulder, like something an army officer would carry maps in, and she had a tray in her hands.
“Is this seat taken?” said the tall girl.
“No,” said Missy. “It’s free.”
“Do you mind terribly if I sit? The only other empty places are at tables with men. I hate to sit at tables with men. They disgust me so.” She had some sort of southern accent, which seemed to Missy even more pronounced with the next thing she said, which was, after a short pause: “They’re so mean, so mean and hateful.”
“Please, sit,” said Missy.
The girl sat down and put her tray on the table. The tray held a cup of coffee and a slice of what looked like the pineapple upside-down cake.
“Would you mind passing the cream?” she said.
The cream pitcher was no closer to Missy than it was to the other girl, but Missy had been brought up right, so she picked up the creamer and moved it three inches closer to the girl.
“Thanks,” the girl said, and she poured a couple of ounces of cream into her cup. She glanced in a meaningful-looking way at the sugar dispenser, but before she could say anything Missy slid it towards her. The girl picked it up, poured about four teaspoons worth of sugar into her cup, then picked up her spoon and stirred the mixture thoroughly.
Missy returned her gaze to her book, but before she could find her place the girl with the Panama hat spoke again.
“I wouldn’t mind it if the men were nice at all, but they are invariably so rude, and they all think they are God’s gifts to women. Don’t you find that to be true.”
“Yes, I suppose so,” said Missy.
“Don’t you find that men are always trying to pick you up when you sit alone in places like this?”
“Well, sometimes –”
“And what do you do about it? Do you let them pick you up?” The girl was eating her cake as she spoke now, along with taking little sips of her coffee, but, unlike Missy’s flatmates, she managed to perform all three actions in a manner that was not revolting, neither leaving crumbs on her lips nor making vile slurping noises. “Or do you tell them to take a hike?”
“I just tell them I have a boyfriend,” said Missy, “and then they usually leave me alone.”
“Oh,” said the girl. She put down her fork, picked up her paper napkin, and dabbed her lips, which were painted very red, and seemed especially red as her face was as pale as the paper napkin which she laid very neatly back onto her tray. She took another sip of her coffee, and Missy had just lifted her book to try to read again when the girl spoke, again: “And do you really have a boyfriend?”
Missy was beginning to be annoyed, but there was something about this girl – her pale skin, her red lips, her forthright manner, combined with the soft southern accent – that overcame, if only barely, Missy’s incipient annoyance.
“I suppose I do,” she said.
“You suppose you do?” said the girl, and one of her eyebrows arched upwards a full inch. Her eyebrows were thin and dark, but they didn’t seem to be trimmed or shaven at all, and they were free of that awful tarlike paste most women smeared on theirs.
“Well,” said Missy, “the thing is, he’s away in the army.”
“Oh,” said the girl. “He’s in the army. Overseas?”
“Yes,” said Missy. “He was drafted, right out of law school, and he’s in Germany now.”
“Germany,” said the girl, with an emphasis that made it sound like the name of a place much farther away, like the South Pole, or perhaps a space station orbiting Alpha Centauri. She took up her fork and set to work on her pineapple upside-down cake again.
Missy returned her eyes to her book, but not with much hope of even beginning to read a sentence, and sure enough the girl spoke once more.
“How much longer is his hitch for? The boyfriend.”
“Oh,” said Missy. “At least another year I think.”
“Another year,” said the girl. “That’s a long time.”
“Yes,” said Missy.
“Oh, my name is Muriel by the way. Muriel Armitage.” She put down her fork and held out her hand. The fingers were long, slender and white, the nails were long and painted the same color as her lips. Missy took the hand, and the girl squeezed Missy’s hand with a rather strong grip for a woman.
“I’m Missy. Missy Hallebrand.”
The girl called Muriel gave Missy’s hand one more good squeeze, and then set it free.
“But I’ve been talking your ear off, and you’re trying to read your book.”
“I don’t mind.”
“I can’t help but notice it seems to be in French. What’s it about?”
“Well,” said Missy, “it’s about this man, a novelist who is a confirmed bachelor, and, in a moment of weakness, he proposes to this girl, and it seems as if he’s spending the rest of the book trying to get out of the engagement.”
“Oh, marvelous. Sounds like my kind of book. And what is his fiancée like?”
“Well, she’s sort of a drip, actually.”
“Ha ha, a drip. There certainly are plenty of them around. Drippy girls I mean.”
“Almost as many as there are drippy men.”
“Maybe even more,” said Missy.
“Ha ha,” said Muriel. “That is quite possible. What do you do.”
“You mean, what do I do for a living?”
“I sell cosmetics at Macy’s.”
“How dreadful for you.”
“It’s not so bad.”
“It sounds bad.”
“Yes,” said Missy. “It’s pretty bad. But unfortunately there’s not many jobs for girls with degrees in French literature.”
“I daresay not.”
Muriel lifted her cup, this time using both of her long and slender scarlet-tipped hands, and as she sipped her coffee she looked at Missy. Her eyes beneath the brim of that Panama hat were brown, and deep. She used just a little eyeliner and mascara, although to be quite honest Missy thought she could give her a couple of simple pointers on their more correct application.
“What else do you do, Missy.”
“Yes. With your life. While you’re waiting for soldier boy to return from Germany.”
No one had ever asked Missy such a question before, and she was just a little taken aback.
What did she do with her life?
“I hope you don’t think I’m a Nosey Parker,” said Muriel. “I was only curious.”
Missy looked out the window at the dirty brown brick walls of the Hotel St Crispian.
“This is it,” she said. “I work at the cosmetics counter at Macy’s. I can’t stand to go home to my smelly hot apartment and my idiotic roommates, so I sit here in the automat and read a library book. If there’s anything good playing I may go to a movie. I take walks. I – I –”
“You what, honey?”
“Yes. I know it’s pathetic, but I wait –”
“Wait for what.”
“I wait for my – my boyfriend to get out of the army.”
“You see, we’ve talked about – you know –”
“So you’re engaged.”
“No,” said Missy, after a pause that lasted longer than she wished it had. “We’ve only talked about it. Chad says –”
“Yes, that’s my boyfriend.”
“Yes. He says, he said, he says, we should wait, until he gets out of the service, before deciding, and, and –”
“And what, dear?”
“And maybe wait, some more, until he gets established, in his law career, before, before –”
“Nothing,” said Muriel.
She had finished her pineapple upside down cake. She picked up her map case or whatever it was, opened it, fished around in it, and came up with an opened pack of Herbert Tareyton cigarettes.
“You smoke, honey?”
“No, not really,” said Missy.
“Take a Herbert Tareyton.”
“’Cause, honey, you’re gonna need one with what I am about to tell you.”
Missy hesitated for a moment, but then she took a cigarette after all, she had no idea why.
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.
"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.
"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?"
"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.