the traffic out of yonkers was not too bad, although the morning was well along.
angie drove carefully, as little as she liked to do so and as much as she wanted to ditch the desoto.
the two girls had dozed off in the back seat, but salome woke up as they crossed the broadway bridge into manhattan.
salome looked out the window. “a lot of cars are passing us,” she told angie.
“there are a lot of cars on the road.”
“can’t you go faster?”
“i could, but i’d rather not. sit back and enjoy the scenery.”
“it’s all scenery i’ve seen before.”
“look at it again. see if it’s changed.”
salome was quiet for a few seconds and then said, “i’m hungry.”
“hungry! you just ate!”
“a coke and a candy bar! you call that eating? i thought maybe you could treat us to a square meal.”
“so you want to stop now?” they hit a red light and stopped and angie turned around. “two seconds ago you wanted to speed up - now you want to stop. which is it?”
“whichever gets me something to eat first.”
the light turned green. angie turned back around. “i know a place we can stop. down on the west side. i want to talk to the guy who runs it, if he’s there.”
“is the food good?” salome asked.
“no, honey, the food is not good. it stinks. they have the worst coffee in new york, and they are proud of it. they’ll make you an omelet out of eggs they buy that are two or three years old. and a nice chicken salad sandwich, but the chicken might be fresh off the wharf, if you get my drift.”
“ha, ha. i think you are funning me now, miss brown. why would a person eat in such a place?”
pippi had woken up, and heard the last of the conversation. “sally will feed us,” she said, rubbing her eyes. “she’ll feed us good.”
“better than miss brown’s friend, with his nasty three year old eggs and such?”
“oh, yes.” pippi stretched and looked out the window. “where are we?’
“hudson heights,” angie answered. “we should be down in the bowery in less than an hour. if we drive carefully and don’t get stopped by the police for any reason, which i am sure none of us want, do we?”
“o k, miss brown, you made your point,” salome told her.
“then i guess we will just drive on through,” angie said, “and i can go back and see my friend later.”
they drove in silence for a while.
“this friend of yours on the bowery,” angie asked pippi. “are you sure she will be there?”
“if she isn’t, she won’t be far away. she sticks to the neighborhood, pretty much. she’s getting old.”
“and she’s just - your friend? she’s not your aunt or anything?”
“we’ve known each other for a while. we do some preaching together, and spread the word together.”
“i see.” angie did not see, but she just said, “ now does she operate some kind of boarding house, or rent rooms?’
“rent rooms?” pippi answered. “no, she doesn’t rent rooms.” she thought for a second. “but she might know somebody that does.”
“why do you ask,” salome put in. “you looking for some place to stay?”
“i might be.”
“why, don’t you have any friends to take you in?”
what a little nosey parker, angie thought. “i have friends but i don’t want to put them out. and i want it to be a surprise when i see them. if i decide i want to see them. you know how it is.”
“there are a couple of little hotels right near sally’s place,” pippi said.
angie laughed. “you mean flophouses.”
“you won’t find the mighty ones of the earth within their walls,” pippi agreed. “ but we’ll find something for you. sally knows the neighborhood. and so do i.”
bleecker and the bowery, thought angie. a little too close to some of her old territory for comfort. but it looked like the best she could do for the moment.
she just needed someplace to lay low for a few days before meeting up with dick richmond at red’s diner.
“here we are,” said pippi. she pointed to the window of a basement apartment. there was a sign in the window with a cross on it, and some lettering angie couldn’t make out.
“why don’t you get out and make sure your friend is here,” angie told her.
the two girls got out and approached the basement stairs. angie looked around.
she was parked in front of a bar. bob’s bowery bar. she vaguely remembered being inside it a couple of times, at night. not the most elegant place, and the daylight wasn’t doing it any favors.
there was a little space behind the bar. should she take a chance on parking in it? she decided not to.
salome was waving at her. just below her the door to the basement apartment was open.
angie got out of the car. she blinked in the sunlight. how she wished she could get rid of the car, which she felt was cursed and unlucky.
she went through the door of the apartment and closed it softly behind her. pippi was talking to her friend sally - an older black woman, who regarded angie with no friendly gaze.
“this is miss brown,” pippi introduced her. “who the lord sent to give us a ride from yonkers.”
“and is looking for a place to stay,” added salome, who had taken her hat and coat off and made herself comfortable in a comfortable looking chair beside a small round table.
“yes. and i can pay,” angie added quickly. “ i will stay in a hotel if i have to, but i thought - a nice quiet room in a house would be better, if i can find one.”
sally’s look softened a little. “we might find something. you know there are some nice hotels not too far off - like the hotel st crispian, just a couple of blocks west.”
the last place in the world i want to go near, angie thought, but she smiled at sally and said, “maybe, but i would prefer a quiet little room.”
“well - we’ll see. but make yourself at home, miss brown. i am just going to get these girls something to eat, and you are welcome to share in it too.”
“thank you very much.” as sally started to turn away, angie noticed a pile of pamphlets on the round table. she smiled and picked one up. “you know, these bring back memories.”
“oh!” sally looked at angie sharply. “of what?”
“i used to hand out pamphlets like these in the street myself.”
“really?’ a gleam of sympathy showed behind sally’s thick glasses. “and for what church?”
“oh, it wasn’t exactly a church. well, i suppose it was kind of a church.”
“kind of a church? what might that be?”
“well, it was a little political party my sister started - the people’s united resistance party -“
“you mean you were a communist!”
“well, no, not exactly communist - “
“not exactly communist! and you compare that to a church!” angie could see that sally was really shocked, and that pippi was a little bit shocked at her statements.
salome looked like she was trying not to laugh.
“i just meant, “ angie said. “that it was sort of the same, passing out leaflets and stopping people in the street, and making speeches - i was just a little child, younger than these girls are now, i was led astray… i left that all behind, a long time ago… i didn’t mean to upset you…”
sally stared at her for a few seconds more, and then laughed. “well, miss brown, we all find our own paths through this mysterious world, and sometimes the light is bright, and sometimes dim.” she pointed to a chair in the corner. “but, please, make yourself at home.”
clorinda: i will ask you one more time, charles. please stop boring me.
charles: boring you, am i ,clorinda? was i boring you back in san bernardino? was i boring you when i helped you take care of jeffrey?
clorinda: oh, please. you must be really desperate, to bring that up again. nobody even remembers jeffrey, let alone cares what happened to him. back in the long long ago.
charles: do you think so? i think the district attorney of los angeles might be interested. very interested.
clorinda: i am sure the district attorney of los angeles is a busy man. a very busy man. unlike you.
charles: i was reading a most interesting article the other day. it seems there is quite a vogue among the minions of the law for reinvestigating old cases. they have some term for them, i forget exactly what. in any case, the newspapers lap them up, and ambitious young detectives are quite keen on them, it seems. especially anything involving any kind of celebrity.
clorinda: ha, ha! celebrity! i never knew jeffrey was a celebrity.
charles: he was a hollywood figure.
clorinda: he wasn’t exactly clark gable. or irving thalberg.
hyacinth wilde yawned. what absolute rubbish, she thought. and yet far from the worst she had been given to read lately.
her maid emerged from the bedroom. “will you be needing me for anything else, madam?”
“no thank you.”
“shall i come tomorrow?”
“um - no, i don’t think so. come by on thursday. not too early. after noon. make it after one o’clock.”
the maid left. hyacinth let the script of bend in a dark road by godfrey mason fall from her hand to the floor.
she yawned again, and got up and looked out the window.
a light rain was falling outside. she watched a few headlights go by below on bedford street.
it was nice and quiet, the way she liked it. the quiet was what she liked best about the hotel st crispian, and one of the main reasons she continued to live in it.
the phone rang. she picked it up.
“this is hyacinth wilde.”
“this is phil wheeler. joe slattery said you wanted to talk to me.”
“oh, yes. yes! thank you so much for calling. i - i would like to meet you somewhere.”
“i’m here right now. down in the hotel bar. the hal room, or something.”
hyacinth thought quickly. “i would like - to meet somewhere a little more private. where we won’t be interrupted.”
“i could come up to your room.”
“no. meet me - there’s a little bar just down the street. eddie’s. on the corner of bedford and leroy.”
“give me fifteen minutes. i have to get a few things together. eddie’s. it’s got a red sign.”
“wait - i haven’t seen you for a while. how will i -“
“i will recognize you, miss wilde.” phil wheeler hung up.
that was quick, hyacinth thought. i would not have given joe slattery so much credit.
she wished she had had more time to arrange the meeting with phil wheeler. eddie’s was a cozy little place where she often met friends. she just hoped none of them - like flossie flanagan! - would be there.
maybe she should have just met phil wheeler downstairs in the prince hal room. oh well, it was too late now.
she went into her bedroom . she took a ring of keys out of her pocket and unlocked a drawer on a small table right beside her bed.
she took a little chamois bag out of it. she checked it to make sure the small selection of jewelry she had made was still in it, and put the bag in her pocket.
hyacinth shook the rain off her umbrella and stepped into eddie’s.
it was empty except for the bartender, who nodded familiarly to her, and a man at the bar who looked like a million other men in new york, but who she immediately recognized as phil wheeler.
“the usual, miss wilde?”
“yes, please.” she turned to phil wheeler. “you are mister wheeler?”
he smiled. “that’s me.”
“is the booth in the corner empty, jack?”
“the whole place is empty.”
when they were settled in the corner booth with their drinks, phil wheeler lit a cigarette.
“i wasn’t sure how mysterious we were being,” he said.
“no mystery. i just like a little privacy.”
“to be sure. you heard from stan slade lately?”
“not much,” hyacinth replied.
“me either. some people when they are inside, they like to write letters all day. others not so much. at least that’s what they tell me,” phil smiled. “i wouldn’t know, from personal experience.”
“yes, it is unfortunate what happened to poor stan. but this - what i want to ask you about - doesn’t really concern him.”
“of course not. i was just breaking the ice a little bit, talking about old friends.”
“stan always spoke of you as someone who knew a good deal about the jewelry business.”
phil took a sip of his drink. “that was nice of him to say so. i always aim to know what i am doing, whatever i am doing.”
“good.” hyacinth took her purse off the seat beside her and put in on the table. “i have a few little items here that have come my way. maybe you can give me your opinion of them.”
originally appeared in the may-june 1952 issue of stunning space stories magazine
editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo
"look,” said joey, “there it is.”
joey and celine had wandered all over the world without meeting any other humans.
they had met up with elves, zombies, dragons, werewolves, vampires, and multitudes of mutants, but no humans other than themselves.
but they had heard many tales of other humans from the creatures they encountered.
mostly they had heard the same story - of a city in “the desert” where the survivors of the last apocalyptic war of the human race had gathered.
but which desert?
the whole world was pretty much a desert.
blue deserts, red deserts, black deserts, white and purple deserts. a few golden deserts.
joey and celine had seen many things in their wanderings.
they had seen terrible battles between the armies of the new empires of mutants.
they had seen whole armies destroyed in an instant by dragons, by earthquakes, and by great storms.
they had seen continents swallowed up by suddenly raging oceans.
they had seen empires blossom in a day, and disappear overnight.
they had walked through dark alleys, and across burning sands.
they had seen duels to the death between champions, and free for all battles with tens of thousands of warriors - leaving only one standing.
they had heard the soft songs of lovers, and the howling of aggrieved fiends.
but through it all they had not seen another human being.
only heard tales of the city in the desert.
the descriptions of the city varied widely.
some said the survivors of the great apocalyptic war had salvaged some of the science of human civilization and built on it to create a world where all humans were equal, where disease and hunger were abolished, and all were immortal.
and others said the city was a hell hole and prison, where a handful of aristocrats ruled an empire of half-starved slaves, and amused themselves with the agonies of desperate gladiators.
and there were many variations and combinations of both versions.
as they wandered through the deserts and across the rivers and mountains, joey and celine had plenty of time to talk, and to speculate on what they might find if they ever came across the city.
they also discussed what their attitude should be toward the city, when and if they ever found it.
joey was of the opinion that the inhabitants, guilty as they were of the war that had destroyed human civilization and most of the earth, should themselves be destroyed.
celine thought that they deserved another chance - if they were not already giving themselves one - and that they, celine and joey, should bring them a message of peace snd love.
celine had been refining the message of peace and love throughout their wanderings.
both had just about given up on the hopes of ever finding the city.
and then one afternoon, as the sun was setting over a purple desert, they came to the crest of a hill and there it was.
the city. a city of brick and bronze, with a massive gate of what they took to be iron.
they saw the city, but did the city see them?
before they could overcome their surprise to speak, they saw the iron gate swing open.
a small wheeled vehicle, like a jeep, emerged and made straight for them.
joey and celine stared at each other.
the slow pace of the vehicle did not argue for the idea that a technologically advanced civilization lived behind the walls.
joey and celine started down the hill to meet it.
the vehicle approached. it was indeed a jeep, uncovered, with big tires. the only occupant was the driver.
an old man wearing coveralls and a floppy straw hat, and with a pipe in his mouth.
“howdy, strangers,” he greeted them.
joey was speechless, but celine remembered enough of human ways to respond, “howdy to you.”
the old man pointed to the back seat with his pipe and joey and celine got in.
“been a while since we seen any strangers,” the old man observed.
“humans, or anybody?” joey asked.
“well, i reckon we ain’t seen no humans for many a year, but even the mutants have pretty much stopped coming around. hard to say how long since we seen any.”
“i see,” celine answered politely.
“course it’s hard to keep track, one day just leading to another the way they do,” the old man went on.
they entered the gates.
they were driving down a street paved with tar. the buildings on the street were all one or two stories tall, and looked like stores.
signs above them read - ben’s feed - martha jane’s pies and pastries - harris apothecary - general store.
what looked liked a diner had a sign in the window - “breakfast all day - try our flapjacks”.
and what looked like a tavern advertised “brew - cold as you like it”.
finally celine asked - “uh - what goes on in this town?”
“yes,” joey added “what do you do for excitement?”
“oh, nothing much,” the old man answered. “my name is mack, by the way - mack jones. we’re just folks here, doing what folks do.”