Friday, July 29, 2016

games, part 7

by harold p sternhagen writing as "ralph desmond"

being a sequel to fun

illustrated by konrad kraus

originally appeared in the july through october 1952 issues of walloping midnight stories magazine

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here

jenny was sensitive .

not sensitive like she cried over dead birds or cats, or sensitive like she cared what anybody thought about her, but sensitive like she sensed things other people did not, things she could not see or hear.

lying in bed in her little room in the attic of the boarding house, she felt that something was going to happen.

something… a little bit different, at least.

she got up and looked out the window into the dark street below.

a car came by. it didn’t stop.

after a few minutes another car came by and it didn’t stop.

maybe nothing was going to happen after all.

jenny pushed the window about halfway up.

there was supposed to be a big storm coming but she didn’t feel anything.

which was too bad because a big storm would be fun, or at least a break in the monotony.

she was leaning out the window when another car came along. a dark blue packard sedan. this one stopped in front of the boarding house.

jenny leaned out further. her light was off so it wasn’t likely the people getting out of the car would look up and see her.

a man got out of the driver’s seat and a woman out of the front passenger seat.

another, bigger man got out of the back seat.

the first man was taking his time looking up and down the dark street.

what is he looking for, thought jenny. he looks sneaky and guilty, and he is too dumb to know he looks guilty.

they must be crooks.

the woman lit a cigarette. she and the bigger man just stood there not saying anything as the first man walked out into the street and kept looking up and down it.

they are crooks for sure, thought jenny. the big guy is the dumb one, taking orders from the not quite so dumb one.

she wondered if they would ring the bell. and if brenda would take them in if they did. probably not.

the doorbell rang. it was always loud and could be heard all through the house, but this was really loud, like it was being pushed hard and held down.

jenny closed the window and left the room and went down the stairs.

quietly, like she always did.

jenny was naturally nosey and a first class sneak, and had been listening at doors and sometimes under windows since she was old enough to stand on two legs.

she moved to the door of the “front parlor” and put her ear to it. sure enough, brenda was giving the trio a hard time, or at least starting to drive a hard bargain.

jenny did not hear brenda use her favorite word - “respectable” - but she did hear one off the men say something like - “come on, lady -“.

“lady”. like a wise guy or hoodlum, and not “ma’am”, like a gentleman, which of course brenda would much prefer.

jenny was right. brenda did not like the looks of hal and duke and cindy one bit. not one little bit.

cheap two-bit hoods. it was as plain as the label on a bottle of heinz ketchup.

and on most nights she would have sent them on their way without a second thought.

but tonight two things held her back.

one, she could really use the money. business had been slow through the summer, and mister johnson the grocer was being a pest about what she owed.

and second, she felt hal was telling the truth that they only wanted to stay one night, and were only stopping because of the big storm. hal seemed genuinely annoyed to have to pay to put up at all.

“this is a respectable place,” brenda told hal, and behind the door jenny smirked at the familiar line.

“we wouldn’t want to stay in any other kind of place,” cindy drawled. there was a little fireplace in the parlor and she moved over and knocked her long cigarette ash into it.

“and i wouldn’t want my sister staying anywhere else,” hal added.

“i got a room with a double bed here on the first floor behind the kitchen. you two fellows can stay there. and i got a room on the third floor, right beside my own. it’s a double too, but your sister can have it - for full price.”

“that’s fine, lady,” hal told her. “we got no problems with all that. but what’s the damage? the price?”

“five dollars for a double room. for each room, so that will be ten dollars.”

“ten bucks! ten bucks! are you kidding me?” hal looked around at cindy and duke. “hey, i thought we were on our way to simmonsville, i guess we took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up in monte carlo.”

“that’s the price,” brenda repeated firmly. “it’s up to you.”

duke spoke for the first time. “do we get anything to eat for our ten bucks? do we get fed?”

“yes, i’ll feed you,” benda replied. “i’ll give you all a nice big breakfast in the morning - the best in town - and then you can be on your way.”

“that sounds good,” hal said. “but, come on, ten bucks - “

“don’t forget the pie,” said a voice behind brenda.

jenny had come into the room. they all stared at her.

“for your money,” jenny continued, “you will each get a big slice of pie with your breakfast. the best pies in the county and they are famous all over the state.”

hal, cindy, and duke all looked at each other and laughed. “that sounds great, kid,” hal said. “you are quite the salesman, aren’t you? you are lost in this small town. you should be selling watches on broadway, or up at the north pole with santa claus selling ice cream cones to the eskimos.”

“do you want the rooms or not?” brenda asked.

“yeah, we’ll stay, we’ll stay. the kid here sold us.” hal nodded to duke and tossed him the car keys. “get the bags.”

“cash up front,” said brenda.

“sure, sure.” hal reached into his pocket. “that’s how i always like it myself. cash up front. it’s the only way. and we’ll all have sweet dreams tonight. won’t we, sis?”

“that’s right,” said cindy. “we’ll be dreaming about those pies.” she flicked her cigarette into the fireplace and looked at jenny. “what kind of pies you got anyway, honey?”

“all kinds. but apple and blueberry are our best,” jenny answered.

“that’s good. apple is my favorite. i was miss apple harvest back in my home town.”

part 8

Thursday, July 21, 2016

games, part 6

by harold p sternhagen writing as "ralph desmond"

being a sequel to fun

illustrated by konrad kraus

originally appeared in the july through october 1952 issues of walloping midnight stories magazine

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here

jenny was restless, as she usually was when she didn’t have enough to do.

of course if she had anything to do, she would be complaining about it.

on the whole, mrs baxter preferred jenny complaining to jenny with nothing to do but sit around and sulk.

and think.

think about the stuff dreams are made of.

like $90,000.

the $90,000 buried in the cellar of the boarding house.

the $90,000 mrs baxter’s late husband jeff miller had robbed from the thomasville bank on “bloody tuesday” four long years ago, with his partner ray “frogman” williamson.

the f b i and the police of six states were still looking for jeff and the frogman, and their unlovely visages could be seen on “wanted” posters throughout the u s a, canada, and mexico.

what the lawmen did not know was that jeff and frogman had had a falling out after the robbery, with jeff calling the frogman a hot headed fool and blaming him for the gunfire at the bank.

frogman had drawn on jeff and shot him dead.

but then brenda - jeff’s wife - had shot the frogman in the back.

brenda and her stepdaughter jenny - jeff’s daughter by his first wife - had buried the two defunct desperadoes in the woods behind an abandoned mill a few miles outside harrisville.

and made off with the $90,000.

they hitched a ride to the next town and caught a bus to bainville, two states over.

brenda had never even heard of bainville, did not know anybody there, and nobody knew her.

at the time jenny was only thirteen years old, a not very bright but docile child who did not seem at all broken up by jeff’s death and was content to go along and get along with brenda.

brenda knew enough not to call attention to themselves by spending the money in an ostentatious manner.

she had a little money of her own saved up and she peeled off some of the older looking bills from the robbery and bought a house in bainville and set it up as a boarding house.

she decided to call herself the widow “mrs baxter”. jenny kept the name “jenny miller”. it was a common enough name and brenda was afraid she might forget to use a new one.

brenda thought some of the money from the bank might be “hot” and traceable and a story she read in the st louis post-dispatch seemed to confirm her fears.

so brenda and jenny wrapped the money up in several layers of burlap and buried it in the cellar of the boarding house.

the boarding house prospered.

it became known for two things.

one, its respectability. brenda did not want any riffraff or hoodlums who might recognize her coming around so she tried to cut down on the possibility of such an occurrence by making it known that “respectable” was not just a word with her but something she took seriously.

and the other thing the boarding house became known for was “mrs baxter”’s pies, especially her apple and blueberry pies.

the pies became a profitable sideline. however, brenda had to make them herself, as jenny was useless at baking them or cooking or baking much of anything.

brenda wore her hair in a tight bun, did not use lipstick or makeup, and put on thirty pounds eating her own famous pies. she grew confident that no one would recognize her as the notorious gunman jeff miller’s “moll”.

jenny was a sullen but not rebellious teenager. she attended the local schools but did not make any friends. she was lazy and never did the simplest things without being told.

it was her job to make the beds but she had to be told every day, “jenny, make the beds”.

brenda gave jenny a small allowance and she spent it mostly on nail polish and eye liner.

jenny had no use for boys. her only real vice was occasionally swiping and smoking brenda’s cigarettes.

she smoked the cigarettes in the basement, down with the buried loot.

there was a little cot down there, to be brought upstairs if a guest with children showed up, and jenny would lie on it and puff brenda’s herbert tareytons and daydream.

she did not dream about boys or men, but she did dream about having nice things.

like having a bed for herself big enough for five people, and a closet the size of the state of missouri filled with nice dresses and shoes…

and right beside her as she dreamed was the stuff to get these things…

90 grand…

the stuff dreams were made of….

and that was how things stood at mrs baxter’s respectable boarding house when hal and duke and cindy showed up.

part 7

Friday, July 15, 2016

games, part 5

by harold p sternhagen writing as "ralph desmond"

being a sequel to fun

illustrated by konrad kraus

originally appeared in the july through october 1952 issues of walloping midnight stories magazine

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here

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…

i don’t know, “ said cindy. “it sounds kind of complicated.”

hal looked at her like he wanted to smack her. but that was how he always looked. “what’s complicated about it?” he tapped his finger on the newspaper on the table in front of him. “‘help wanted. maid of all work’ what’s complicated about that?”

cindy blew a perfect smoke ring. it drifted up to the rough wooden ceiling of the truck stop. “it doesn’t say what all kind of work it is.”

“what do you care? doing dishes and making beds, probably. it’s only for a week while we case the joint.”

cindy blew some more smoke and took a sip of her coffee. “maybe they want me to dig ditches. i ain’t digging no ditches, not even for a week.”

“if they wanted someone to dig ditches, would they ask for a maid? would they?” hal glanced over at duke. “am i right?”

“i don’t know, “ duke mumbled. “you see some strange things in want ads. there was this buddy of mine back in memphis and he saw this job for a chauffeur. so he goes out to this big mansion outside of town and do you know what the guy wanted?’

“yes, we do know what he wanted,” hal said. “because you’ve told us that story before.”

“oh.” duke hung his head. he was always telling the same stories, and saying the same things.

“and it was disgusting the first time you told it,” cindy added. “so don’t tell it again.”

“i’m sorry.” duke hung his head lower.

“don’t be sorry,” hal told him. “she don’t have to talk to you like that. give her a smack if she gives you any more lip like that.”

“heh heh. she’s your girl, hal.” duke edged a little away from cindy.

“that’s o k, you got my permission.”

cindy rolled her eyes, and smirked and tapped some ash into the saucer of her coffee cup, but did not say anything.

the trio were sitting in a booth in the corner of the truck stop, as far away from the waitress behind the counter as they could. although cindy was hal’s girl, she and duke were sitting side by side across from hal, because hal liked room to spread out.

the truck stop was otherwise empty except for the waitress, who was leaning across the counter reading look magazine.

suddenly the door opened and a man walked in. the door closed behind him with a wind-blown bang.

hal looked out the window. there was a car parked down by the highway beside the solitary gas pump. it didn’t have a light on top of it but in the darkness he could just make out the word “sheriff” in faded white letters on the side.

the man who had entered looked like a sheriff, with a bushy but neat mustache and a brown leather jacket with a fur collar. but no badge.

“evening, sheriff,” the waitress put her look magazine face down in the counter and went over to the coffee machine.

“evening, samantha.” there was a little glass case on the counter with slices of pie in it and the sheriff opened it and helped himself to a messy looking slice of blueberry pie. then he reached around behind the counter and took out a fork.

“big storm coming,” the sheriff announced as he inspected the fork and samantha brought over a mug of coffee.

“so i hear.” samantha did not sound too excited or interested. she turned her look magazine back over.

the sheriff put two heaping spoonfuls of sugar into his coffee. “shouldn’t be here before daybreak though.” as he spoke he looked over at the threesome in the corner, who had fallen silent.

“i get off at six,” said samantha, turning the page of her magazine.

but the sheriff was already heading over to hal, cindy, and duke. keeping his eyes on them all the way.

“evening, folks.” the sheriff put his pie and coffee down on a table across from their booth. he did not sit down.

“good evening to you,” hal answered in a confident, friendly voice.

“passing through?”

“probably,” hal replied.


“well, we are headed west, looking for work, but if we could find something here, you know… “

the sheriff shook his head. “not much work around here, even when times are good.”

cindy leaned across the booth and asked with a smile, “do you know everybody around here?” she gave the sheriff her best look, and got the effect she had on most men - turning his brains and manly instincts into a whirlpool of bubbling sludge.

“well, miss - i’m the sheriff, by the way.”


“yes, my name is sheriff james brown. most sheriffs are named john brown, but i am sheriff james brown, ha ha.”

“that’s funny,” cindy agreed.

“look here,” hal said to the sheriff, “if you are the sheriff, it must be for the whole county, right? not just this town?”

“that’s right,” the sheriff answered, pulling his eyes away from cindy.

hal tapped his newspaper. “ever hear of a mrs elizabeth morris - of -“ he consulted the paper. “of simmonsville?”

the sheriff looked startled. “of course - at the old morris place. everybody knows mrs morris. what - don’t tell me she’s advertising for help again?”

“i guess she is,” said hal. “it is right here in black and white. my sister here was thinking she might apply . and we thought maybe the lady could use a couple of hired men too - no harm in asking.”

the sheriff laughed. “no harm in asking. but old lizzie has a mighty hard time keeping help. and do you know why?”

“no, why?” cindy asked.

“because she wants to pay what she’d pay if mckinley was still president. in fact what she would really like is to pay what her grandfather paid his slaves before the war between the states.”

“oh,” hal said, with a look of disappointment. but it was exactly what he wanted to hear - that the crazy old woman really was a miser - and must have a fortune stashed away in her house!

“no,” sheriff james brown continued. “i would advise you folks to continue on your way. there is a big storm heading this way, and you just might want to stay ahead of it.”

“a big storm!” exclaimed cindy. “how big?”

“might be mighty big. you wouldn’t want to be out on the road. with the wind blowing straight across the plain."

hal looked thoughtful. “in that case, maybe we should hole up somewhere. would you know someplace we could stay, sheriff?”

“well, there is mrs baxter’s place, in bainville, about twenty miles down the road.” the sheriff hesitated. “she runs a real respectable place.”

“we wouldn’t stay in any other kind,” said cindy.

the sheriff flushed slightly. “so you are brother and sister, eh? and what about you, young fellow?” he asked duke. “are you family, too?”

“just a friend,” duke told him.

“a friend, hey? don’t tell me, i bet you two fellows were in the service together.”

“not exactly,” hal told him.

“not exactly?”

“no, we played football together. at florida state.”

“florida state, eh?’ the sherif chuckled. “you don’t hear much about football at florida state.”

“well, “ said hal, “we weren’t fordham or notre dame, but we did play football.”

“we always gave two hundred percent,” duke added.

“i played a little football myself,” said sheriff james brown.

outside, the wind began to howl. cindy lit another cigarette.

part 6

Friday, July 8, 2016

games, part 4

by harold p sternhagen writing as "ralph desmond"

being a sequel to fun

illustrated by konrad kraus

originally appeared in the july through october 1952 issues of walloping midnight stories magazine

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here

the professor, who knew things that should never be known…

“… but there’s plenty more dames in the sea, that’s what i always say.” bob wound up his story about sally, the waitress in fredericksburg maryland, who had a set of curves you had to see to believe…

the road had grown increasingly dark - they hadn’t passed a light of any kind for at least a couple of miles - and bob couldn’t see the look on the professor’s face or tell if he believed bob’s story.

if he didn’t, to hell with him.

“that’s a good story,” the professor finally said. he kept his pipe in his mouth as he spoke.

“you know, it’a a funny thing about stories,” the professor added, after they went about another thousand yards. he actually took his pipe out of his mouth as he said this, the first time he had since he had picked bob up.

“and what’s that?” bob asked.

“some are more stories than others.”

“yeah,” bob agreed, though he was not sure what the professor meant. was he cracking wise, giving bob the needle? did he think bob made up the story about sally the waitress and her curves?

“stories are on a spectrum,” the professor continued, with his unlit pipe back in mouth.

‘i guess,” said bob, although he did not see, and did not know what a “spectrum” was. something like an atomic bomb, maybe?

suddenly the professor pulled over to the side of the road.

“what are you stopping for?” bob asked. they seemed to be stopped beside a field, though it was too dark to tell even that. there was not a light in sight, and no moon or stars.

“just to fill my pipe and light it,” the professor replied in a mild voice. “we’ll be on our way shortly. why, were you in a hurry?”


“we will come back to civilization in a few miles. we’ll stop and get a cup of coffee.”

“uh - i’m a little short,” bob said.

“that’s all right, i’ll but you a cup.”

“gee. thanks.”

‘all you have to do is listen my story.”

“i can do that.”

the professor finished filling his pipe from a pouch he had taken out of his vest pocket., and lit it with a wooden match.

he took a long contented drag of the pipe, and the started the car again.

they drove a while in silence. bob thought the professor was going to wait until they got to wherever they were going to get coffee before he began his story, but suddenly he started.

“i have never told this story to anyone before,” he began. “and i did not think i ever would. but it’s been eating away at me for years, and i have finally decided i need to tell somebody… even if that somebody is…”

bob thought thought the professor was going to say “a bum”, but he said “a complete stranger.”

“my story starts about fifteen tears ago,” the professor continued. “when i first obtained my appointment to the faculty of st crassus college. i was looking forward to a long and leisurely life of teaching shelley and tennyson and ruskin to undergraduates, when i received a letter in the mail. a letter without postmark or return address but in an envelope inscribed with a firm masculine hand.

i opened it, and saw that it was from something calling itself the “universal concatenation company”. surely a name to inspire skepticism. i quickly scanned it and to my astonishment found that it was signed by my old boyhood chum barry atkinson!

barry and i had been lads together in the golden faraway days before the world went mad. we had hunted jackrabbits and fished for trout together, and as you may have surmised, had been in love with the same girl.

who had, needless to say, chosen barry. barry, accompanied by his lovely bride, had headed to the corridors of power on the faraway east coast, those corridors bustling with activity in anticipation of the coming world cataclysm. and i had resolved to bury myself and my broken heart away among the silos and bookshelves of st crassus agricultural college.

i went back and read the letter more carefully.

barry was offering me a position on a project - one of many competing ones, as he readily acknowledged - that bid fair not only to win the coming war - victory was treated as a certainty - but to reorganize the very fabric of what the man in the street laughingly regards as “reality”.

why me? i was only a humble interpreter of ancient bards, quite ignorant of any science except the elementary principles of euclid.

because, barry assured me, he could count on my absolute loyalty. he would, he explained, quickly get me up to speed on all i needed to know to be his loyal factotum.

and of course, i would be helping to save civilization and all that…

would it shock you, my friend, if i told you i cared not a rap for civilization, or patriotism, or glory, or for any of the finer feelings you might care to name?

no, what i saw was the chance to once more set eyes on millie… beautiful, rosy-cheeked, millie…

wife, as she might be, of another man…

and so it was that i found myself the only passenger getting off at a tiny railroad station in the middle of nevada, blinking in the sun and not seeing anybody there to greet me.

the station itself was no more than a shack, and was closed. i tried the door, and noticed a sign that said - tickets noon to 4 p m only’.

and then i heard a voice behind me.

'charles! how wonderful to see you!'

i turned and it was millie. laughing, sparkling, curly-haired millie. just as i had dreamed of her all those hundreds of lonely nights and dreary afternoons…

'millie- ' i stammered foolishly, 'where did you come from?'

'the car is parked behind the station, silly, where there is at least a bit of shade. come on, barry is waiting for you, with a big pitcher of lemonade!'

the car was an old model t ford, of all things, but polished to a high shine, and, millie assured me merrily, quite capable of traversing the stony wastes of the desert.

it took me a moment to realize it, but i was alone with millie. alone, in what seemed to be a hundred miles of desert…

and in that moment i wondered if there were any power in the world that could keep a man from breaking down when his soul is being smashed into a thousand pieces… “

the professor paused.

suddenly there were lights in the distance, as the car approached a main highway.

part 5