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, who spins a tale of skullduggery on two continents...
because who do you think i should run into just last week on sixth avenue?’
“surely not the countess?”
“no - tomo.“
“oh?” roselle laughed. “and did you recognize each other right away? and stop and have a nice little chat?”
“no,” blackie replied slowly. “not exactly. for my part i just felt my memory jogged a little bit. truth be told i was six sheets to the wind - and you know that feeling when you crawl out of a dark bar - like this - into the noonday sun - “
“only too well, “ roselle agreed.
“ - and it is all you can do to keep your eyes open and not to black out with the shock, and you have to look really carefully at everything so as not to bump into anything - and everything just seems to jump into your face -“
“ - well it was just in that state that tomo’s nasty mug leapt into view - and i thought - looks familiar - no it’s just the drink. i stopped and took a deep breath, and do you know even then nothing might have come of it -“ blackie paused.
“but ? - “ roselle prompted him.
“but for some reason i turned around. and there was tomo, four or five feet behind me, staring at me. like he knew i would turn around, like he had willed me to turn around. and he says, ‘ we meet again, captain bascomb’. and it all came back to me.”
“and this is where? somewhere on sixth avenue?”
“sixth avenue and 46th street! it couldn’t have been busier - floods of people! the whole city of new york going to lunch! but i felt as if i were a puppy on a desert island, trying to stare down a boa constrictor.”
“and did he swallow you? what did all the people going to lunch think of that?”
blackie continued his tale.
“i started to faint. tomo took me by the arm.
‘you look unwell, captain. here, let me help you.’
tomo signaled for a cab and one pulled over right away. the next thing i knew i was in the cab and it turned around and we were heading downtown…
i didn’t remember telling the driver where to go, so i started to open my mouth but then i realized that tomo was seated beside me.
‘where are you taking me?’ i cried.
‘taking you? we are just going for a drive, captain. isn’t that what americans do, go for drives? nice sunday drives?’
‘then we will go for a nice tuesday drive.’
‘are you taking me to see the countess?’ i asked.
he pretended not to hear me.
‘are you taking me to see the countess?’ i repeated. ‘what does she want with me? are you — are still in the countess’s service?’
‘the countess?’ he finally answered. ‘oh, yes, the countess. the countess was very grateful to you for the services you rendered - those services you were pleased to render. no doubt she wrote to you?’
i looked out the window. we were on seventh avenue and the traffic was slow. we were just crawling along. it was slow enough that i could just jump out of the cab, even in my condition. i tried the door.
it did not open.
“i feel fine,’ i managed to say, ‘i can make my own way.’
‘nonsense. it is a beautiful day for a drive. go down to the river, maxie, so that the captain can enjoy the lovely view.’
“maxie!” exclaimed roselle. “that was - “
“that was what?” blackie asked.
“that was the cab driver’s name?”
“yes, it was.”
roselle looked around. the bartender had not returned. there were still no other patrons, and the bar looked darker than ever.
“and the cab - what was the name of the cab company?”
“um - it was - “
“five city cab?”
“yes, it was, now that you mention it.”
roselle grabbed blackie’s arm. “we have to get out of here.” she tossed her cigarettes and lighter into her purse and stood up. “right now - let’s go.”
“but i just started my story.”
“you can finish it somewhere else.”
“you don’t want to hear my story,’” blackie whimpered.
“oh, i do, i do,” roselle assured him. “but not here. we have to get out of here.”
it was raining harder than ever when they stepped outside.
there was a cab parked in front of the door.
a five city cab.
two people with umbrellas over their heads were standing beside the cab.
a shadowy figure could be made out in the back seat of the cab.
“you didn’t think you could get away that easy, did you?” agnes asked roselle.
his head whirling more than ever after his encounter with merry and delbert, jerry sat back down in the booth across from moe. he put the new pack of old golds down in front of him, and took a sip of the draft beer.
at least my hand is steady, he thought.
“o k, fill me in here.” jerry leaned across the booth. “what happened exactly with stan? and what am i supposed to be looking for when i get over to the east side?”
moe looked a little bewildered, but then he usually did. “well, kid, if i knew what you was going to find, i would already know it, wouldn’t i? that’s what i wanted you to do - find something.”
jerry shook his head. “all right, moe, start at the beginning. stan was accused of what - knocking off packy miller? that’s ridiculous - stan wasn’t in packy miller’s league. sure, stan was a bookie, but he just had his little patch. and he was as honest as a roast beef dinner on sunday afternoon. you won, he paid you. he never even had anybody working for him except maybe a couple of kids - like me.”
“that’s all very well, kid. you think his lawyer didn’t say all that and more? but red fuller and the rest of packy’s boys had him in a frame tighter than you could get at the louver in paris france.”
“wait a minute,” jerry interrupted moe. “red fuller? what has red fuller got to do with anything?”
“he’s taken over for packy. but everybody still calls it packy’s gang. you know, they make a big deal about missing packy and being sad he’s gone. as broken hearted as a kid who didn’t get no valentine.”
jerry shook his head. “red fuller? that cheap punk? what about freddie fitzgerald? manny the greek? are they taking orders from red fuller? that doesn’t sound right.”
“hey, what do i know? i’m just telling you what everybody is saying.”
“all right, it’s not important. so - how does stan get fingered for this in the first place? did you say packy got gunned down over on the east side? stan never went near the east side. he hardly ever moved from 65th street.”
“packy’s guys came up with a dozen witnesses that said he did.”
“but didn’t he have an alibi? “ jerry ripped open the pack of old golds. “he must have been at his own shop, or making his own rounds. didn’t twenty people see him?”
“not on that night he wasn’t.”
“no!” jerry had been lighting a cigarette but he almost dropped it in his lap. “what do you mean? where he would go? he never went anywhere!”
moe shrugged. “nobody knows.”
“but didn’t anybody ask him? didn’t you ask him?”
“sure, i did, but he wouldn’t tell anybody nothing. not even his lawyer.”
“that reminds me - who was his lawyer anyway?”
moe hesitated. “billy tompkins.”
“billy tompkins! are you kidding me? that old rumbunny - he couldn’t fix a parking ticket for the pope. stan couldn’t have got a worse lawyer.”
“billy was stan’s friend. you know how stan was - loyal.”
“yeah.” jerry looked down at his draft beer as if seeing it for the first time. he took a sip. “he was - wasn’t he?”
“you know what i think?” moe asked.
“no, moe, what do you think?”
but moe fell silent as he saw ruby the waitress returning with jerry’s sandwich.
ruby put the sandwich down in front of jerry. “sorry it took so long. you see, you might as well of ordered a burger. or a steak dinner.”
“not a problem,” jerry told her. “thank you, i’m glad to get anything.”
“so,” jerry continued, after ruby had left, “you were saying?”
“i was saying you know what i think?”
“and what do you think?”
“i think stan was covering for somebody.”
“you don’t say. “ jerry looked own at the ham sandwich. suddenly he wasn’t hungry any more. “any idea who?”
“i don’t know - maybe a dame. it’s always a dame, isn’t it?”
“yeah.” jerry pushed the sandwich away. “i better get going if i’m going to do anything. you want this sandwich? i’m not hungry anymore.”
“sure - if you insist.”
the blue light taxi service was right where merry had said it would be, though jerry probably would not have noticed it if he had not been looking for it.
there was a dim light showing in the window of the dispatch office. a cab was parked in front of the office, and another across the street, but both were dark.
jerry tried the door of the office. it was locked. he started to look into the window.
he heard a voice behind him, a woman’s voice. “can i help you?”
he turned but did not see anybody. then he saw some movement in the front seat of the cab across the street.
he started to cross the street. as he got closer to the cab, he could make out the form of the driver, slumped behind the wheel.
it was merry! he almost jumped back.
“can i help you?” the girl asked again. “the office is closed.”
“uh - yeah,” jerry answered. what was the name merry had given him? terry - that was it. terry. sure - this girl must be her sister, maybe her twin.
“merry sent me.”
“oh.” the girl sat up straighter. jerry could see she looked just like merry, except that under her cabbie’s hat she had blonde hair. “you know merry?”
“not really, i came in on the bus and - .”
“oh yeah, sure. get in. get in the back,” she added, although jerry was already opening the back door.
terry started the cab up. “where to?” she asked as the headlights came on.
“uh - the east side.”
“just - the east side? the east side’s pretty big.”
“uh - “ jerry tried to think. didn’t packy miller have a flower shop? would his gang still be running it?
“a flower shop,” he told terry.
“a flower shop.” she swung the cab on to a wide boulevard jerry didn’t recognize, that must have been new. “just any old flower shop?”
“i think there’s a flower shop over on madison.”
“you mean packy miller’s flower shop?”
“that sounds as good as any.” jerry looked out the window. the boulevard was almost deserted. it was so wide he could hardly see the stores and other buildings along it. it didn’t look like the chicago he remembered.
“packy doesn’t run it any more,” terry told him. “a woman named mellow jackson runs it. you familiar with her?”
“no, i - uh - i’m not familiar with any of these people.”
“that’s good. because they are what you might call bad companions.”
“if you say so. thank you for the warning.”
“i bet your mother told you to stay away from bad companions.”
“yes, she did. and the nuns in school did too.”
“uh-huh. so you just want some flowers at this time of night, huh?”
the boulevard was getting darker. there seemed to be no more stores.
“yes, i just got back from deep space - “
“i noticed the uniform.”
“and i wanted to get some flowers for my girl, you know, to surprise her.”
“ha, ha - you weren’t enough of a surprise yourself, huh?”
“i guess not.”
“but really, that’s so sweet. so romantic. there isn’t enough romance in the world today. that’s my considered opinion.”
in our previous episode, jerry murphy has returned to chicago from a hitch in deep space, to discover that his uncle stan has been framed for murder - and is headed for the chair!
jerry stared up at the clock on the bus station wall. his mind was in a whirl.
he knew he had to say something. moe was looking up at him with his hound dog eyes, like a sinner looking up at a saint descended from heaven.
somebody bumped into jerry from behind. he hardly felt it.
it occurred to him he was in back in chicago, and he almost checked his pockets, then remembered he had everything, including his new papers and i d, safe in a money belt around his waist.
moe was tugging at his arm. “come on, let’s sit down somewhere. you look like you are going to faint.”
jerry wasn’t going to faint, but he did feel like sitting down.
he looked across the station. there was an old fashioned snack bar at the back wall, selling hot dogs and sandwiches and sodas. there was a girl behind the counter wearing a white paper hat.
looking at it brought back long ago memories of days at the ball park and the lake, of ferris wheels and cotton candy and shooting galleries - the first time he fired a shot at something and hit it - and the big ugly clown handing him a blue teddy bear for a prize...
“let’s go over there,” he told moe.
“no, i can’t sit on them stools, they make my back hurt.”
“there’s a place right outside, the dark and smoky bar. let’s go there.”
“can i get something to eat there? “
“sure, they’ll fix you something. especially if i ask them. i’m an old customer.”
“all right, let’s go, then.” jerry took a look around the bus station. as soon as i go out that door, he thought, i will really be back in chicago.
the dark and smoky bar seemed empty, but when jerry and moe took a booth near the door jerry thought he heard voices from a couple of the other booths in front of them.
there was no bartender in evidence. there was a big television screen - almost as big as the viewer on a space ship - but it was turned off.
a gray-haired waitress came over with a pencil and pad. she nodded at moe and said something jerry couldn’t make out.
moe pointed to jerry. “this is jerry. he’s just back from deep space.”
the waitress didn’t look impressed. “what will you have?
“think you can get jerry something from the kitchen? “
“sure,” the waitress looked at jerry. “what do you want?”
“whatever is quickest.”
“get you a ham sandwich. a burger or a cheeseburger if you want to wait.”
“a ham sandwich is good.”
“want anything on it?”
“nothing else? most people eat healthy these days - lettuce, tomato?”
“get you some ketchup - that’s got some vitamins.”
“mustard - lots of it.”
“and two dark drafts,” moe added.
jerry watched the waitress head to the back . “was her name ruby?”
“of course. what else would it be?”
jerry rubbed his eyes. “all right, tell me about stan. where he is now, in joliet?”
“nah, he’s in russia someplace. some part of russia - siberia or bulgaria or someplace. ”
“in russia? what’s he doing in russia?”
moe shrugged. “that’s the way it is these days. it’s one world. and they move people around, you know.”
jerry didn’t know but he just said, “so where is the governor - if you want to get him to stop the execution - still in springfield?”
“nah, in brazil someplace. that’s how they do it these days. spread everything around.” moe lowered his voice. “so that the workers and peasants can’t unite.”
jerry blinked. “brazil? so we have to get to brazil?”
“no, no, the governor is not the problem.” moe leaned forward. “the solution is right here, in chicago - over on the east side. we know packy miller’s boys framed stan - all we have to do is prove it.”
“in the next four hours.”
“exactly.” moe started to say more, but looked back over his shoulder at ruby the waitress approaching with the two drafts on a tray.
as ruby put the two glasses down, jerry asked her, “where can i get a pack of smokes?”
“there’s a machine beside the bar, over on the right, just before the back entrance.”
“is it still a quarter?”
ruby laughed. “a quarter? sonny, you have been in deep space. no, it’s forty cents.”
“forty cents!“ jerry had been warned that prices were up but had not really thought about it. he wondered how long his discharge pay would last.
“you’ll see a lot has changed, kid,” moe told him. “but don’t worry, i got these beers. and your sandwich.”
“yeah, thanks.” jerry stood up. “excuse me.” he headed for the back, because now he really needed a smoke.
as he passed one of the other booths he heard a voice behind him.
“are you following me, spaceboy?”
staring at him through a whirl of cigarette smoke was the bus driver - the knockout dame from the bus from spaceport.
and sitting across from her and looking up at jerry was delbert - the little guy on the bus who had wanted to show jerry a good time.
jerry just gawked at the bus driver, who was still in her uniform - a uniform that showed off every curve on her lush body.
delbert broke the awkward silence. “the kid don’t mean nothing. after all, we are just outside the station.” he laughed. “don’t mind merry, kid. she thinks every guy in the world is following her. and you can see why, ha ha!”
“right,” jerry mumbled. he turned and headed for the cigarette machine.
his hand trembled slightly as he put his forty cents into the machine and heard the pack of old golds thunk into the tray at the bottom.
what am i shaky about, he thought. i wasn’t this nervous when i was stranded on a leaky patrol craft two million miles from betelgeuse.
he put the cigarettes in his pocket and headed back to the booths.
he stopped when he got to the booth delbert and merry were sitting in.
“can i ask you a question?” he asked merry.
“you’re a bus driver, right?”
“a brilliant observation.”
delbert laughed, but jerry ignored him.
“so you must know the bus routes around here.”
merry shrugged. “a little. i mostly have the spaceport route.”
“what’s the quickest way to the east side?”
“quickest way?” she blew smoke at him. “you in a hurry?”
“yeah, a little bit.”
“a hurry for a good time?” delbert asked.
“no, strictly business.”
“if you are in a hurry,” merry answered. “you don’t want to take the bus. there is a cab stand down the street, on the corner of 77th. blue light cab. ask for terry and tell them merry sent you. it won’t cost much more than the bus.”
“thank you, “ jerry told her. “thank you very much.”
“glad to oblige.”
“come back later,” delbert said, “if you want a good time.”
“after your serious business,” merry added. she blew a smoke ring.
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!”