Wednesday, September 21, 2016

games, part 14

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

a couple of large raindrops hit hal on the back of the head as he rang the doorbell of the boarding house, to be let back in after his walk around the block.

he had already forgotten the curious sight of jenny letting a couple of women in by the side door.

he waited a few seconds. he started to press the bell again, but the door suddenly opened and brenda the landlady stepped aside and let him in.

she did not say anything but quickly closed the door behind him as a few raindrops followed him inside.

the entrance and front room were dark, but hal could see a light on in what he knew was the kitchen.

though she had not invited him to do so, hal followed brenda into the kitchen,

there was no one else in the kitchen. there was a mug of tea on the table. and an ashtray with a cigarette burning in it, and a book.

hal sat down and made himself at home. “it’s quiet here, “ he said.

“yes, you mentioned that before.” brenda sat down and knocked the ashes off the cigarette and took a puff of it. “i told you, the guests are mostly working people, they need their sleep.”

“i’m just saying,” hal persisted. “you sure you got a full house here?”

“close enough.” what does he care? brenda thought. what would he do if the place was empty? tie me and jenny up and go through the place for - what, some jars full of pennies? the pies in the icebox?

and then it hit her - could this stupid punk have an idea about the money in the basement?

how? who could have known, or suspected? and if there was anybody out there who had traced her after all this time. wouldn’t they have come themselves?

even as she considered these reassuring thoughts, another part of her brain knew that strange things could happen in the world of yeggs and stickup men that she had left behind. a slip here, a lucky break there, and a punk like this could get the best of the hardest customer.

brenda was confident of her ability to read people, and she had pegged hal for a complete moron. looking at his stupid face through a puff of smoke, she felt again she was right.

hal pointed to the book on the table. it was a library book - the milk of human kindness, by elizabeth ferrars.

“reading a book. huh?”


“any good?’

“pretty good.”

“what’s it about?”

“it’s a mystery - a murder mystery.”

“a murder mystery, huh?” hal stared at the closed book. “ where a little old lady gets her head bashed in by the maid? and a detective with a mustache smokes a pipe and solves the case?”

“i haven’t got that far yet.”

“books like that,” said hal, shaking his head, “they don’t know nothing about real violence.”

“you don’t think so?”

“i know about real violence,” hal continued. “i seen things you wouldn’t believe. things you wouldn’t believe, sitting here in this cozy kitchen.”

“you don’t say so?” brenda assumed he was talking about wartime experiences, real or imagined. she wasn’t interested.

but hal, perhaps sensing her disdain, changed the subject. “say, about that pie that the little girl was giving her spiel about -“

“what about it? you want some?”

“sure, if you don’t mind. i mean, i was going to have some in the morning anyway - “

“i’ll get you a piece of pie.” brenda put her cigarette out in the ashtray and started to get up. “you want some tea with it?”

“no, that would just keep me awake. i’ll take a glass of water though.”

“coming right up.” brenda stood up. “i’ll get you some and then i’m going to bed. what kind do you want?’

“um - what kind have you got?”

“right now i got apple, blueberry , pumpkin - “

“pumpkin! aargh! i ain’t eating no pumpkin pie!”

“all right, do you want apple or blueberry then?”

“nothing personal, you could make the best pumpkin pie in five states but it’s still the most disgusting thing anybody ever ate.”

“apple or blueberry?”

“i’d take a dead raccoon out of a coyote’s mouth and eat it before i ate pumpkin pie.”

“apple or blueberry? i’m going to bed, sport, i haven’t got all night.”


brenda went over to the icebox and took out a pie.

while she was cutting him a slice, hal shifted in his chair and looked back at the parlor. “mind if i sit up a while?”

“suit yourself. just make sure you turn the light off when you go upstairs.”

hal nodded. “can i turn the radio on?’’

“as long as you keep it low.” brenda turned the tap on and filled a glass with water and brought it over to hal with the pie and a fork.

“say, you’re pretty easy to get along with, “ hal told her. “i been in places where such is not always the case.”

“it’s good business.”

“i guess. it pays to be nice to be nice to people.”

“sometimes,” brenda agreed.

“you got to be nice to people,” hal warmed to his theme. “but at the same time, you can’t let people take advantage of you.”

“that’s so true.”

“a lot of things are like that. you got to find a balance. my uncle joe used to say, you got to gamble but you can’t be too careful.”

“on that wise note, i’ll leave you.” brenda made her escape from the kitchen and closed the door behind her.

more of a chatterbox than i would have expected, brenda thought. at the same time she felt reassured that he was just what he seemed and knew nothing about her and the money in the basement.

did she hear something in the basement? what the - ? and then she knew - it was jenny letting her bum friends camp out - camp in - again!

jenny thought she was so sly. brenda sighed. why couldn’t she have friends her own age? well, she, brenda, was not going to do anything about it tonight, and wake up the whole house.

what there was of the “whole house”. for brenda had not been entirely truthful wth hal and cindy in telling them that the house was “just about” filled up.

in fact, besides hal and his two friends, there were only two other residents in the house at the time.

which was the main reason she had let hal and company in in the first place.

brenda started up the stairs. as she did, the house shook slightly and the little window on the staircase suddenly filled with rain.

part 15

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