Tuesday, July 28, 2015

darkness, my home town - part 5

by fred flynn

illustrated by roy dismas

originally appeared in the june 1949 issue of frontiers of space magazine

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

to begin at the beginning, click here

click here for 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!

now jerry has to dig something up to save him - fast!

he grabs a cab to the east side, hoping to find something before it is too late.

first stop, the late packy miller's flower shop...


terry rapped on the back door of the flower shop.

george the gimp was not at home or was not answering.

terry rapped a little harder. still no response.

there was a dirty, cracked window beside the door. she peered into it.

“i can’t see anything,” she told jerry.

“try rapping on the window,” he told her.

“i don’t want to break it. it is already cracked.”

“here, let me look.”

terry stood aside and jerry tried to look in the window.

“you want those flowers real bad,” terry laughed.

jerry didn’t bother answering. he knew that all pretense of buying flowers was gone - if terry had believed him for one second to begin with - and he didn’t care what she or anybody else thought.

time was running out.

but he could not see anything in the window - not a shadow, a glimmer of light, nothing.

he tried opening the window. it did not lift.

“whoa, pardner, “ terry exclaimed. “that’s breaking and entering. i don’t think red fuller would appreciate that.”

jerry ignored her. he tried the handle of the door.

it opened right away.

jerry stepped in. it was pitch dark. he hesitated, but his eyes hardly adjusted.

“anybody here?” he called. no answer.

he turned back to terry. “you want to help me?”

“hell no. and i ain’t going to wait all night for you either.” but terry leaned in and called, “hey george, you in here?”

no answer.

“now, i’m curious.” terry said. she moved a little closer to the doorway.

“you got a flashlight?” jerry asked her. “you must have one in your glove compartment.”

“look for a light switch,” she answered. “there’s got to be one near the door.”

jerry tried, but could not find a switch. he took a cautious step inside. he bumped against something - probably a table.

his eyes made out the table and some small objects on it. he fumbled gingerly among the objects.

no flashlight - but he felt something small and papery.

he held it up, back towards the doorway to see it.

a matchbook.

without stopping to think, he lit one of the little matches.

it gave just enough light to see a doorway about twenty feet away, across a bare cement floor.

he lit another match and headed across the floor.

behind him, he heard terry close the door they had entered. he could see her shadow in the light from the sputtering match, but she did not follow him to the second door.

jerry pulled open the second door.

he could barely make out a naked light bulb hanging from the ceiling. he reached up, found a string, and pulled on it.

dim, flickering light from the bulb showed him he was in a bare little room, not much more than a closet.

a cot was shoved up against the back wall. a huddled, motionless form lay on it.

this has got to be george the gimp, jerry thought.

terry had finally followed him. she was looking over his shoulder.

“is this the guy we want? “ jerry asked.

“that’s him. and he looks awful sound asleep,” she said. “looks real peaceful, don’t he?”

“let’s find out how peaceful he is,” jerry answered. i shouldn’t get fingerprints on him, he thought. he took a handkerchief out of his pocket and with it wrapped around his hand, he rolled george the gimp off the cot on to the floor.

there was a knife sticking out of his back!

jerry and terry stared at the body for a few seconds.

“want to stick around now?” terry asked. “you know, look around, see if there are any more bodies?”

jerry didn’t answer. why not, he thought, what have i got to lose?

“let me point out,” terry said, “that we didn’t make much noise or show much light, but we must have made some.”

jerry came to his senses. “yeah, you are right.”

“the cops could be on their way right now,” terry added. “or maybe somebody even gave red fuller a call, in stalingrad. he could call back and have someone getting out here right now.”

“all right, you convinced me.”

jerry pulled the cord on the light, plunging the little room, and the room outside, into total blackness again.

they got back outside and into the cab. as soon as they pulled back out onto the street, terry put the lights back on. jerry stiffened a little when she did.

“looks suspicious if you leave them off,” she said.

“yeah, right.”

“so, where to? still want to buy those flowers?”

“you know i wasn’t buying any flowers,” jerry answered wearily.

“ha ha, honesty is finally the best policy. but, seriously, where do you want to go? back downtown? drive around the beautiful east side? ”

before jerry could answer, they saw headlights up ahead. they were both silent as the car approached and roared past them.

it was a police car! headed right back to the flower shop.

at full speed but with no siren.

terry looked back in the rear view mirror. “i think we better get back on mrs murphy’s boulevard - in any direction. you don’t want to get trapped in these nasty little streets.”

“sure, why not?” jerry’s mind was a blank. he slumped back in the seat.

“mind telling me what this all about?” terry asked. they had come to a wider street and now she speeded up, back toward the boulevard.

jerry couldn’t think of anything to tell her except the truth, so he told her what he knew. which, as he told it, he realized again was not very much.

“yeah, i figured it was something like that,“ terry told him when he finished his brief recital.

“now can i ask you a question?” jerry asked.


“how come you are being so helpful?”

“who’s helpful? i’m just running up a fare. by the way, i hope you have all the back space pay i figure you for.”

jerry shook his head. “don’t worry, i got it. there’s got to be more than that. why risk even being seen with me? if red fuller is out to get me. why not just stop the cab and tell me to get out? that would seem the sensible thing to do.”

“it’s a slow night. i need the fare.”

they were back on the boulevard. jerry thought they were still heading out of downtown but he was not sure. “all right, have it your way.”

“ha, ha, no it ain’t just the fare. i got my own beef with red fuller, see. and especially against his pro-ta -gee that punk chicago jimmy kelly. so i figure anything that might bring down them down - or maybe just embarrass them a little, i’m in. you get my drift?”

jerry was not sure he believed her, but what could he say? “so you are in with me all the way, huh?”

terry laughed. “well, i don’t know about all the way, my friend. that covers a lot of territory. let’s just say i’m with you for now, how’s that?”

“i guess it will have to do,” jerry told her. “where are we headed, by the way?”

“right now? toward the old south side. you got someplace else in mind?”

“not really. that was the only lead i had - and you see how it turned out.”

“you got nothing else at all, huh?”

“no - wait! it probably doesn’t amount to much.” jerry reached into his pocket and took out the matchbook he had picked up in the back room of the flower shop.

he leaned over the front seat to read the matchbook cover by the dashboard light.

“it says - ‘borgia’s - fine food and drink - 2213 north -“

“oh yeah, chuck borgia’s place - over on the north side.”

“you know it?”

“i know where it is - not a place for sober and hardworking citizens - or citizens without big bankrolls.”

“would it be open?”

“it might be, ”

“let’s try it. i can’t think of anyplace better.”

“ha, ha! you can think of lots of places better - like anyplace in chicago - or the world.”

“let’s go then.”

“all right, space boy, you asked for it. as soon as i can turn around - up at that next light.”

jerry leaned back. “and on the way you can tell me what you know about chuck borgia.”

“not much - he’s kind of a mysterious figure.”

part 6

Monday, July 20, 2015

fun, part 22

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, who spins a tale of skullduggery on two continents...

and then suddenly it all comes together...


you didn’t think you could get away that easy, did you?” agnes asked roselle.

tomo laughed.

blackie’s shoulders slumped. any fight that he might have had in him was gone.

tomo opened the rear door of the “five city cab” and blackie stumbled into it.

roselle hesitated. she looked down the street. it was hard to see anything in the pouring rain, but there did not seem to be any pedestrians in either direction.

agnes pointed to the door of the cab which tomo was holding open. “get in.”

“no,” came a deep, weary female voice from the back seat of the cab - the “countess”? “leave her.”

“leave her?” agnes asked. but she did not seem too surprised.

“we will deal with him first,” the mysterious voice replied. “we will come back for her later.”

“all right,” agnes agreed. she turned to roselle and laughed in her face. “we always know where to find her.”

agnes closed her umbrella and got in the front seat of the cab beside the driver.

with a wink at roselle, tomo closed his umbrella and got in the back seat with blackie and the presumed “countess”.

with a splash of water, the cab sped off.

roselle was left alone.

with the rain and the wind on the empty sidewalk.

in a daze, she put up her own umbrella and started walking.

she did not know where.

uptown, downtown, east side, west side, what difference did it make?

we always know where to find her!

should she go back to the apartment?

no! that was the last place she should go.

who could she trust?


where was jerry? he was probably in on the plot - whatever it was.

her bankers? her lawyers? even if she could reach them at this time of night, they were probably in on it too.

friends? she didn’t really have any any more. nobody she could trust.

suddenly roselle was tired. and hungry.

and she needed a drink.

it was raining so hard she was getting wet even with the umbrella.

a gust of wind turned her umbrella inside out. before she could get it fixed she was soaked.

now she really needed a drink.

she remembered she had no money, except for a little bit of change, because agnes had stolen her wallet.

where to go?

she supposed she could find a decent hotel. even looking like a wet rat, and with no money or reservation or identification, she could bluster her way into a room - “i am mrs roselle winfield, and i -“

but then she would probably sleep for twenty-four hours and agnes and the countess would find her and be waiting outside.

no, she knew what she had to do.


run tonight.

roselle ducked into the next doorway. she checked her purse - she still had her car keys. agnes had not thought to take them.

she could go back to the apartment, have the bentley brought around, and head on down the highway. at least get a good head start.

was there any gas in the bentley? she could not remember the last time she had used it.

there must be enough loose change in the apartment for gas to get her started. or she could even bum a couple of dollars from the doorman.

yes, that was a plan. she would find a cab and have the doorman pay him.

as soon as she figured out where she was.

but before she reached the next street she had second thoughts. what if they were waiting for her ? they said they would be back for her “later”. they did not say how much “later”.

no, better to start running now. right now.

she would hitchhike.

even in her wildest and most abandoned youth, roselle had never actually hitchhiked.

but there was a first time for everything.

she would go far, far away. to philadelphia or wyoming or argentina or russia.

where no one would ever find her.

she began walking faster, looking back over her shoulder for any cars she could stick her thumb out at or wave at.

looking over her shoulder.

this was her new life.

this was the way it was going to be.

always on the run, always looking back over her shoulder.

never stopping in one place.

down each dark highway to the next crummy town.

bumming nickels and dimes and cigarettes and drinks from strangers.

in the shadows.

in the wind and the rain.


the end.

Monday, July 13, 2015

fun, part 21

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...

jerry tells his tale to whitey, who prevails on him to stop at a boarding house owned by whitey and run for him by ruby ...


whitey and pandora got jerry up the stairs and into room number 8 and left him passed out on the bed.

then they came back down to ruby’s room. ruby felt obliged to offer them coffee, which they accepted.

as ruby was making the coffee, whitey began expounding - “thinking aloud” as he put it - on the possibilities presented by the existence and situation of jerry.

as she listened to whitey ruby was not impressed.

she was not impressed by much of anything whitey said or did any more.

she had decided he was a loser and a blowhard. but for now she was sort of stuck with him.

she brought whitey and pandora their coffee and sat down at the kitchen table with them. it made for a cozy little group, especially with the whale pandora taking up so much space.

ruby took a sip of her own coffee, put it down and rubbed her eyes. “look, “ she interrupted whitey, “i hate to sound thick, but can you start over? i didn’t quite hear what you said at first, and what you’re saying doesn’t - i mean, who is this guy exactly and what is he doing here?”

if whitey was annoyed, he didn’t show it. “this guy was my commanding officer in the army - for about a year. the rich guy. i must have told you about him before.”

“mm.” ruby just nodded. she blanked out all stories about the war - from anybody who wanted to tell her one. she had taken no part in the war herself, not as a rosie the riveter or as any g i’s lonely wife or sweetie or in any other way, and she was sick of the stories of those who had.

whitey continued, giving ruby the details of jerry’s doings as he understood them from jerry himself, and from pandora.

“and you are sure he killed his wife?” ruby asked.

pandora had already taken the newspaper out of her purse and now she handed it to ruby.

ruby skimmed through the paper. she tried to think as she read it. she didn’t like pandora’s looks or anything else about her. whitey seemed awfully chummy with her. had he really just met her? ruby had been trying to think of a way to get away from whitey. but the thought that he would dump her - especially for this eyelash-fluttering ton of fun - did not sit well with her.

ruby put the paper down and took out her cigarettes and lit one to give her time to collect her thoughts.

“well?” whitey asked her.

“you know what i think this guy needs?” ruby said.

“tell us.”

“a lawyer. not you or me - or us - ” - ruby’s gaze flickered over pandora - “but a lawyer. and he can afford one, right?”

whitey glanced at pandora. “yeah, he can afford one. he can afford a whole law firm. but he don’t seem to want one. he never said the word lawyer to me.”

“but he’s drunk, isn’t he? when he sobers up, he’ll come to his senses and want a lawyer.”

“he didn’t seem that drunk to me,” said whitey. “scared and confused, yeah, but not drunk.”

“he wasn’t even that drunk when i met him hours ago, “ said pandora. “maybe a little buzz on, that’s all. and then he slept in the car on the way up here. i’m surprised he passed out again. it must be the strain from all that excitement.”

“i think we should at least consider some possibilities,” said whitey. “it can’t hurt.”

“since fate has dropped him in our laps,” added pandora. “you don’t get chances like this every day.”

that’s right, fatso, agree with everything he says. aloud ruby said, “all right, let’s hear these great ideas.”

“what i was thinking,” whitey said, “was kidnaping him. i mean, that’s what you do with rich people, right?”

yes, ruby thought, and go to the chair like the poor slob who kidnaped the lindbergh baby. “kidnap him?”

“i mean, not really, because he would be in on it. but it would be a way to get some of his money without him having to give himself up.” whitey looked pleased with himself for this answer.

“that sounds good to me,” pandora said. “it sounds like money for everybody.”

“of course,” whitey quickly added, “we would have to really plan it, think it through.”

“and he’d be in on it himself, right?” asked ruby. she still didn’t like it - not one bit.

“that would be the first plan,” whitey answered. “the starting point.”

ruby nodded. there was, she decided, no sense arguing at this point.


jerry had awakened almost as soon as whitey and pandora had left him.

he had crept back down the stairs.

standing outside the door, he had overheard everything the three of them had said.

kidnaping him! despite whitey’s and pandora’s assurances to ruby that he, jerry, would be “in on it” - as a “starting point!” - the word sent cold chills down his spine.

what a fool he had been - to trust either of them. or anybody. even for a minute.

they were like the rest of the stinking human race - only out for themselves. even if they didn’t “kidnap” him, they surely meant him no good.

he had to get away - now.

he looked down the short hall at the front door. could he open it without them hearing it? the door looked heavy - almost certain to creak - loudly.

he turned and on tiptoe, went back up the stairs and to room 8.

he had not closed the door to the room, so it made no sound as he slipped back into it.

there was a window, already open a crack. he carefully opened it wider.

he was in luck. the ground in the small back yard was higher than the street at the front door. although he was on the second floor, it was effectively only a one story drop.

he threw his hat out the window and squeezed himself out after it. holding on to the sill with two hands, it was only a drop of a couple of feet.

there was a fence, about five and a half feet high, separating the yard from the yard of another building behind it. his heart pounding, jerry scrambled over it. he scraped his face and hands a little bit, but did not even notice.

careful not to trip over anything, he made his way past a trash can on the side of this building and out on to the street.

jerry fled.

he had no idea where he was. dawn was coming up. but there were still no cars in the street.

he didn’t know if that was good or bad.

there was a hint of rain in the air.

he decided not to call attention to himself by running. besides, he knew he would quickly be winded.

he wanted to get back to the highway, but did not know if he was headed in the right direction.

one thing he did know.

he was lost - lost and damned forever.

without a friend in the world. just like always.

but now he had no money. and no name.


just the shoes he was running away in.

this was how it was going to be.

always on the run. always moving.

always looking over his shoulder. forever.


suddenly he thought he could make out an overpass ahead. it must be the highway!

maybe his luck was turning. he started walking a little faster.

a car passed him, heading in his direction.

the car - a shiny black studebaker - slowed down and then stopped.

jerry slowed his own pace a little, drew level with it.

a deep voice emerged from the studebaker. “hey pal, want a lift?”

part 22