originally appeared in the july through october 1952 issues of walloping midnight stories magazine
editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo
they all came together in the abandoned house in the storm…
bob, a guy who wanted to forget…
julie, a girl who wanted something to remember…
the professor, who knew things that should never be known…
sultry cindy, with her soft curves and man-devouring eyes…
hal, who liked to call the shots…
duke, who did not have much to say…
and the wild card was rosie…. drunken rosie, who had seen it all, who had been born in a penthouse and been blown into the gutter… and who knew every trick in the book… or did she?
it all started on a dark highway, somewhere between rochester new york and los gatos new mexico.
a lone hitchhiker by the side of an empty field.
the hitchhiker’s name was bob.
he was just a guy.
i should not have walked out this far, bob thought. i should have stayed on the outskirts of town, where i could turn back and find a flop if i couldn’t get a ride.
a cold wind picked up, and he turned his collar up and pulled the lapels of his cheap blue suit tighter across his chest.
he had lost his hat somewhere outside syracuse new york. it made it that much harder to get a ride, because who is going to pick up a bum that does not even have a hat?
the next town he came to he would find the first guy he came to lying in the gutter and steal his hat. any hat would do, even a flat brimmed straw.
he had just never looked good in a flat brimmed straw. he was a panama guy from way back.
or maybe he would come to a jungle and could steal one there - maybe even fight for one if he had to.
he could still fight with the best of them.
but he didn’t see any sign of a jungle. he had heard there were not any in this part of the world and so far it had turned out to be true.
he walked on.
he started to get sleepy. but he did not want to sleep out on the ground.
bob was as tough as they came, and had seen and done it all, but he hated sleeping on the ground. he would rather spend the night in the crummiest flophouse in the western hemisphere… or back in the booby hatch… than sleep outdoors in the dirt.
under the moon.
there was nothing out here. it was like being on the moon.
a thought hit him. maybe he was on the moon!
maybe roosevelt had had him transported to the moon. it would be just like him.
then he heard a car. coming up behind him.
still a ways away, but he could hear it in the empty night.
he decided to jump right in front of it if he had to.
he waited. here it came….
and slowed down. he did not have to jump in front of it.
the car stopped. it was an old one, a black 1940 packard four door sedan, but clean and looked and sounded in good shape.
it brought back some memory to bob… a black car… the nut house…
but nothing to stop him from opening the car door.
“where you headed?” the driver asked.
bob got in. he remembered to say thank you, something he did not always do.
the driver was a middle aged man, smoking a pipe, so bob knew right away he was a professor.
the guy was not a doctor, because he did not have the blue light around him that doctors have. bob had a lot of experience of doctors and knew all about them.
“how far west you headed?” the professor asked.
“far as i have to,” bob answered. he thought that was a pretty good answer, and it was, because the professor laughed.
“getting away from something, eh?’” the professor asked. he talked easily with the pipe in his mouth.
yes, bob was getting away from something — the loony bin, but he was not about to let that on.
“ a dame,” bob answered, and the professor laughed right on cue.
it was easy to make up stories about dames, because they were all the same. still, bob would not tell a story unless the professor asked him to.
telling the guy a story would be better than being asked to drive, though. bob was not a very good driver. especially on long stretches, because his mind wandered.
he would get to thinking about roosevelt, and lindbergh, and hitler, and all the wrongs that had been done to him, and he would drive right off the road and into a river.
when bob had first escaped and taken to the road, the war had just ended and almost everybody he met had stories about the war.
bob had eventually realized that a lot of the guys’ stories were made up, and he started telling his own stories. why not? he was just as good as anybody.
just because he had been locked up in the nut house, when there was not even anything wrong with him, just because he knew the truth about roosevelt, that did not mean he could not have been in the war if he had the chance, and parachuted into hirohito’s mountain fortress with a bayonet and a grenade in his teeth with the best of them.
but he also quickly found out that the guys who really had been in the war could spot him a mile away, so he went back to stories about robbing banks, sometimes with john dillinger, sometimes by himself, and stories about women.
“you’re kind of quiet,” the professor said, interrupting bob’s drifting thoughts. “you sleepy?”
bob sat up. “not particularly.”
“i’m a professor,” the professor said, but bob already knew that. “a college professor. i drive around the country. listening to people tell their stories. and also, if people talk, that helps me keep awake.”
“you could listen to the radio,” bob said.
“that puts me to sleep. and you can’t get it this far out of town, anyway. i like to listen to stories. and you know what?”
“i don’t even care if the stories are true. ha, ha!” the pipe bobbed a little in his teeth when he laughed, but did not fall out.
“why don’t you tell me about that dame you are running away from?” the professor added.
“sure,” bob agreed. and he started telling a made-up story about a made-up dame. her name was sally, and she slung hash in a little diner outside fredericksburg maryland… and she had a set of curves you wouldn’t believe…