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

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