Tuesday, October 2, 2018

the golden gumdrop caper, part 25

by manfred skyline

illustrated by roy dismas and konrad kraus

originally appeared in the june through september 1956 issues of last stop - excitement magazine

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here

the train to pittsburgh had run a little late, and by the time hyacinth wilde retrieved her bags, had them hauled them out to the sidewalk by a redcap, engaged a cab a cab to the hotel, and seen the bags put in the trunk of the cab, she was about ready to wait until the next day to go in search of a pawnshop.

but once she was safely in the back seat of the cab, she decided that the show would go on, and she would just get it over with.

the driver was an older man with a red veined face and a weary look about him. he had seemed a bit awed by hyacinth’s regal bearing, even though she had been polite enough and showed no impatience when he had struggled with her villainous baggage.

“what’s your name?” hyacinth asked him as they finally pulled away from the curb.

“joe, miss.”

“you know this town pretty well, joe?”

“i’ve lived here all my life, miss, and driven a cab for thirty years.”

“then you must know where i can find a pawn shop.”

“i do, indeed, miss, i know where every pawn shop in town is.”

“great. then take me to the nearest one, please.”

“oh, you don’t want the nearest one. you want a good one, i know a good one, the best.”

probably his brother-in-law’s, she thought, or one he gets a little kickback from. “all right,” she told him, “as long as it is not too out of the way.”

“it is not at all out of the way, miss. it is just a few blocks away.”

“fine. as long as it is just a few blocks.”

“should i wait for you, miss? when we get there?”

“yes, please.”

the pawn shop was indeed only a couple of blocks away. so far, so good. hyacinth had not been to a pawn shop in years, but the “best” one - “ace loans” - looked like all the ones she remembered. it all came back to her as she entered the shop, but did not bring a tear to her eye.

the little man behind the counter was right out of central casting. almost surely the proprietor himself. this is all very smooth, hyacinth thought, everything is going to be all right, what was i worrying about?

“can i help you, miss?”

“yes. i have an item here. it belonged to my aunt, who passed away recently. she left it to me, along with some items of purely sentimental value.”

the little man nodded.

“i have no idea what it is worth, if anything,” hyacinth gave the little man her best smile.

“may i see it?”

hyacinth produced the golden gumdrop, which she had wrapped in a plain white handkerchief.

the little man picked it up casually. and then - he got the same look on his face phil wheeler had when hyacinth had shown him the gumdrop. even more so - he actually looked a little frightened.

hyacinth could see him making an effort not to look up sharply at her.

“i don’t think i can give you anything for this, miss.”

all right, she thought, that is enough of this. i am not going to spend my life trying to get a few dollars for this thing.

“i see. well, it probably had some sentimental value for my aunt.”

“no doubt. but i could not ask any kind of price for it myself. you understand. “

“yes. well, thank you for your time.”

hyacinth went back outside to the waiting cab.

“that was quick, miss,” joe observed as he opened the door for her.

“yes, it was.”

“old jonah knows his business.”

“yes, he does. take me to the hotel, please.”


after seeing her bags up to her room, hyacinth went down to the hotel bar.

“i have a question for you,” she said to the bartender, after he placed her double martini in front of her.

“yes, miss?”

“are there any rivers in this town?”

the bartender laughed politely, as if hyacinth had made a little joke. “indeed there are, miss. pittsburgh is known of the city of three rivers.”

“you don’t say so. any of them right around the corner?”

“the monongohela is two blocks away. “ the bartender smiled. “i hope you are not thinking of jumping into it?”

“ha ha. no, i just - i just like to walk beside rivers at night. it is very soothing, and i get a good night’s sleep.”

“well, that is all right then.”


hyacinth watched as the golden gumdrop descended into the depths of the mononghohela river.

so much for that, she thought.

she went back to the hotel, and true to her word, got a good night’s sleep.

but how deep is any river?

the end

Monday, December 26, 2016

games, part 25

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

edna got her hat and coat and purse and went out to her car.

before getting into it she took another look around. it was not easy to see in the wind and rain, but there was no sign of mister garver or his car, and she felt reassured that the tail lights she had seen going back towards town had indeed been his.

now she just had to find julie, who could not have gotten very far..

suddenly a thought hit her. could garver have grabbed julie? was that why he was speeding away?

no, she thought. there had not been enough time. even if julie had somehow run back around to the front of the house - and why would she do that? - and run right into garver, she, edna would have heard some sounds of a struggle.

edna started her car up, backed out of the driveway and headed slowly down the street. she decided to start by circling the block taking the first right, to come around to the street where the house behind her own was located.


bob lifted the heavy knocker on the door of the brightly lit-up house.

if he had looked closely at the knocker - which he did not - he might have noticed that it took the form of a leering ugly face. which the sculptor had probably intended to be some greek god like bacchus, but which the townsfolk walking by had always taken to be the devil.

god or devil, nobody answered when bob banged on the door with it.

julie looked back at the street. the car that had frightened her because she thought it might be mister garver’s, had passed without slowing down.

now she felt more afraid of the strangely silent house. “maybe we should just forget it,” she told bob.

bob stopped knocking and tried the handle of the door.

it opened easily.

bob took a step inside. he could see into a room off to the left. it was brightly lit and filled with heavy furniture but there was no sign of any living thing.

“anybody home?” bob called.

nobody answered.

bob took a couple of steps into the house. julie held back in the doorway, then took a step inside, just to get out of the rain.

the wind slammed the door shut behind her.


seated at the kitchen table of the boarding house, hal listened glumly as rosie, sal, jenny and brenda took turns telling stories about the old morris place and about how many people had tried to get their hands on old mrs morris’s money for thirty years or more but nothing ever came of it.

even if they are wrong, he thought, and there is something there, and somehow i could get it, these people here would all, but especially rosie, know it was me and be able to set the law on me.

i should just forget it, he thought, and move on down the road.

suddenly hal just wanted to get out of the boarding house and move on.

hal put his coffee cup down. he had finished his pie. “sounds like the storm is letting up a bit,” he said.

the others listened.

“maybe a little bit,” brenda told him. “but it is probably just a lull.”

“then i think i will take advantage, and move out,” said hal. “i’ll go wake up my friends, and we will be on our way, “

“jeez, cowboy, that’s not being very friendly,” said rosie. “if you don’t want to listen to a bunch of chattering women, you can just go to bed. you don’t have to go out and get blown away in a hurricane.”

“no, i think it’s letting up, and i just want to get going. i got a busy day ahead of me!” hal stood up. “i thank you for your hospitality, missus.”

“suit yourself, “ brenda told him. “you paid for the night.”

“ha, ha! don’t worry, missus, i don’t want my money back.”

“do you really think it’s letting up?” sal asked, when hal had left.

“it might be,” said brenda. “then again, it might not.”


edna made the right turn, fighting the wind.

as she did she thought she caught a glimpse of the old jasperson house.

were there lights on in it?

that couldn’t be. it had been abandoned for years, although something or somebody - probably the bank - kept the house and the grounds from going to seed.

no, there were no lights on, edna saw as she completed the turn and approached the corner where the big old house stood silent.

it must have been a trick of the wind.

she drove past the dark house and down the street looking for julie.


the professor got down to the basement.

the way the house had started to shake had given him a bit of a scare, but the shaking had stopped.

even better, he had discovered once again, after having forgotten about it again, the little note in his pocket the old woman had given him with the directions to dig up the money in the basement.

nothing could stop him now.

he had not been able to find a flashlight or any other light, but his eyes were getting accustomed to the dark.

had the old woman said something about a shovel?

there it was! against the boiler, just like she said.

suddenly - was the house shaking again? it was hard to tell down here in the basement.

the professor moved toward the shovel.


“i think we are coming up to the place,” said hal, squinting through the windshield.

“what difference does it make now?” cindy asked. she was lying across the back seat of the packard, trying to get some sleep.

neither cindy nor duke had been very enthusiastic about being awakened, or by hal’s decision to get away in the “lull” in the storm.

especially since the lull, such as it was, seemed to be over.

and neither of them understood why hal, even if he was giving up on his plans on the morris place, could not just wait until morning and the storm had passed before moving on.

and getting the breakfast they had already paid for.

hal didn’t really understand it himself, now that he thought about it.

but when a guy’s got to move on, he’s got to move on.

that’s what it meant to be a rambling man.

duke, in the front seat with hal, was taking the situation more philosophically than cindy.

“is that it?” duke asked hal. he pointed to a big house on a hill, barely visible in the darkness.

“i think it is,” said hal. he pulled over and they both stared up at the house.

with a sigh, cindy pushed herself up and looked out the car window.

“jeez,” she said, looking at the house, “it looks like it’s shaking.”

and as they watched, the whole big house collapsed in on itself, sending enormous clouds of dust and plaster and splinters and debris into the air and into the wind and rain.

“wow,” said duke. “that was like a bomb or something. i never saw nothing like that, even on the fourth of july.”

“let’s get out of here,” said cindy. “before we get blamed for it.”


the storm ended, just in time for edna to get back to work at the lunch counter of the bus station in the morning.

she had not gotten any sleep, and had not been able to find julie.

well, she thought, as she put her apron on and started making a pot of coffee, she will either show up.

or she won’t.

the end

Thursday, December 15, 2016

games, part 24

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

“you got a smoke?” rosie asked hal.

uh, sure,” hal answered. he exhaled, apparently recovered from his shock at seeing rosie.

“you two know each other?” brenda asked, “not that it’s any of my business.”

“oh, yeah, we know each other,” rosie answered. “we go way back. well, maybe not so far back as all that.”

hal had taken a crumpled pack of old golds out of his pocket and was looking inside it. “it looks like i only got two left,” he told rosie.

“that’s good, that means i won’t be taking your last one. not that i wouldn’t take your last one, “ rosie laughed.

“you know, missus,” sal addressed brenda as hal was lighting his next to last cigarette in rosie’s lips, “we really appreciate your letting us come up here like this, don’t we, rosie?”

“for sure,” rosie agreed, blowing a smoke ring.

“you got a heart of gold, missus,” sal continued. “just like your daughter here. i always tell her, she has the heart of all the nine golden virgins rolled up in one, and the saints in heaven too.”

“you don’t say so,” brenda laughed. “and look at her, she’s not even blushing.”

“that’s because i’ve told her before,” said sal.

“don’t get me wrong, i appreciate being up here,” rosie said to brenda. “but did somebody say something about making ourselves useful?”

“maybe later,” brenda told her. “i’ll let you know. for now, just sit down and relax.” she pulled a chair away from the kitchen table and nodded to rosie to sit down in it.

“yes, you two just sit down for now and i’ll get you some pie,” jenny told rosie and sal.

“well, i was just going to bed, so i’ll see you all later,” said hal.

“what!” rosie cried. “you don’t want to talk about old times? come on, cowboy, have a seat, tell me what you’ve been up to.”

hal hesitated. if he left, who knew what rosie would tell them about him? he didn’t care about the girl, or rosie’s friend, but the landlady…

“sure,” hal agreed. “why not?” he pulled a chair up across from rosie. “i’d like some pie, too, miss,’ he told jenny. “if you don’t mind.”


the professor woke up.

he didn’t know where he was or who he was.

as this happened to him often, he was not unduly perturbed.

he was lying on a strange bed - a huge old four-poster bed. he was wearing clothes several sizes too large for him.

he sat up and looked around. he was in what was obviously a woman’s bedroom. but there was no sign of a woman or any other living creature.

what there was a sign of was a raging storm, battering at the windows of the bedroom.

he got up and headed for the door of the bedroom. he almost tripped over the rolled up cuffs of the pants he was wearing.

there was a railing on a landing outside the bedroom, looking down over a large room with a big dark fireplace.

the professor saw tracks of mud on the landing and on the stairs and in front of a large oak door on the ground floor.

things started to come back to him.

money. millions of dollars… buried in the basement…

suddenly the house started to shake.


julie looked up at the house.

so brightly lit, and yet so quiet. and with nobody visible through the brightly lit windows. shouldn’tt there be somebody walking around in there?

“come on,” bob said, “what are you waiting for?’ he was halfway up the walk to the front door.

“i don’t know,” said julie. “it’s… kind of scary.”

“what can happen?” bob asked. “i’ll protect you,” he added gallantly. “and besides, at least it will be dry.”

julie still hesitated. then she heard a car coming down the street.

mister garver!

julie hurried up the walk and joined bob.

bob looked for a bell but could not find one. there was a heavy knocker on the door and he lifted it .


brenda had gone back to her room, after leaving the blankets, flashlights and candles in the pantry.

jenny stayed in the kitchen with rosie, sal, and hal, after giving them all pie, and sal and rosie some coffee. she wanted to keep an eye on them even though she was pretty sure - well, she hoped - rosie and sal wouldn’t steal anything.

“so, cowboy,” rosie asked hal. “how have you been? still looking for that big score? always looking for that big score, that’s what i remember about you.”

“are you really a cowboy?” sal asked hal.

“naw, that’s just her little joke. i was a football player back then - for florida state.”

“oh.” sal did not look impressed.

“yeah, in tallahassee,” rosie said. “the dump of dumps. the only place in america where you can get eaten by an alligator. like you were in the jungle or mars or someplace uncivilized.”

“so what were you doing in tallahassee?” jenny asked rosie.

“looking for ways to get out of it before i got eaten by an alligator. like we all were, right, sport?”

“nobody stays in one place forever,” hal replied. brenda was gone, and he had had enough of rosie, so when he finished his pie he was going to head for his room.

“but you were the guy who was going places, if i remember rightly,” rosie persisted. “always with the big plans. hey, remember old mrs wadcaller?”

“who?” hal asked.

“old mrs wadcaller! at the old wadcaller place about ten miles outside town, in the middle of the swamp. you of all people got to remember.” rosie turned to sal and jenny. “there was this big old house out in the swamp, and this crazy old lady lived there alone and there was talk she had millions buried there. ha, ha! and there were always some fools thinking up ways to find it. ain’t that right, cowboy?”

“i never really believed it,” said hal. “if we went out there it was just for a gag.”

“that’s not how i remember it,” said rosie. “that’s not how i remember it at all, ha, ha!”

“there’s a place like that outside every town in the u s a ,” said sal, as she grabbed another forkful of pie.

“that’s right,” said jenny. “we got one right here. the old morris place. they say people have been talking about old mrs morris and her millions for thirty years but nothing ever comes of it.”

“ exactly,” rosie agreed. suddenly her mouth flew open like a country well and she stared at hal -

“hey, you don’t suppose - ha ha ha !…..”

part 25

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

games, part 23

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

“my name is garver, george garver. i understand you have my bride here. i’ve come to claim her.

edna hesitated. she kept the door open just enough that she could see the man and his angry face, without letting too much wind and rain in.

“do you mean, sir.” she finally asked, “a woman who is actually married to you? i don’t believe i know a mrs garver.”

as edna spoke, she suddenly felt a blast of cold wind at her back.

followed by the sound of a window being slammed shut.

“what was that?” garver exclaimed.

“just the wind,” edna replied evenly. “as you can see, it is blowing rather fiercely.”

“don’t trifle with me, missus. i am wise to your sneaky ways. i know my bride is in here, and i mean to have her.”

“i hope you are not threatening me,sir.”

“threatening you, missus?" garver laughed. "you mean laying a hand on you? oh, no, george garver is not such a fool as that. but i have the law on my side, and i mean to claim my rights. i know my rights, and i also know bill d. miller - you may have heard of him - the sharpest lawyer in the county. and between us, we know how to deal with folks who would deny me my rights.”

“yes, i am sure you do,sir.” edna started to close the door in garver’s face.

“you will be hearing from me, missus! and from lawyer miller!” edna got the door closed.

she rushed back into the living room, but as she suspected, julie was gone. her coat was gone too.

a puddle of water under the window told the tale. julie had indeed escaped through the window.

was garver waiting outside? did he know, or suspect, that julie had left the house? would he search for her?

edna hurried back to the living room. she pressed her face to the glass of the window.

she did not see a car outside, but it was hard to tell for sure n the darkness and rain.

she opened the front door a crack. she saw no sign of garver or a car. she did see a set of red taillights heading down the street, back towards the town.

she hurriedly got her hat and coat and purse and went out to her own car.


julie ran.

there was a house behind edna’s, separated from it by a few scrubby hedges, but no fence or wall.

julie ran between two of the hedges and across the neighbor’s lawn into a dark street.

there was another house across the street from the neighbor’s. there was a light on, but being seen, in the storm, was not something she was going to worry about.

she ran across the lawn of the house with the light on. there was a fence, separating it from another house - this one completely dark. the fence was not very high. julie got over it, but slipped and landed flat on her face in mud.

she got up quickly and ran across the lawn of the darkened house into yet another street.

she was now two blocks away from edna’s house. it had only taken a few minutes.

julie stopped to catch her breath. she looked around.

most of the street she was now on was dark. but there was a big house at one end of it that was all lit up.

every window in it was lit up brightly. yellow light streamed out into the driving rain.

julie stared at it, mesmerized.


when bob had gotten off the deserted road and seen some signs of human habitation, he , too, had seen the brightly lit up house.

somebody must be having a party, he thought. they must be filled with good cheer.

surely they would take in a wet and weary traveler.

and even if they didn’t, maybe somehow he could sneak in, and not be noticed in the crowd!

he approached the house.

strangely, despite being all it up, there were no sounds coming from it - of revelry or partying or anything else.

and although it was a big house, bigger than any of its neighbors, it was actually pretty shabby and run down. a couple of the shutters were hanging crooked on their hinges.

as he stared at the house, bob felt someone behind him.

he turned. it was a girl, young, maybe just a teenager.

she was almost as wet as he was. her clothes were covered with mud, but the rain seemed to be washing mud off her face. she had no hat, and the rain was plastering her hair to the sides of her face.

she ignored bob, or maybe did not see him, and looked up at the house.

“looks like someone is having a party,” bob said.

“a party?” the girl answered. “i don’t hear anything.”

“you aren’t wearing s hat,” bob said.

“what?” the girl looked at bob.

“you aren’t wearing a hat,” bob said, “just like me. a guy with no hat, a girl with no hat. standing here in the rain. it makes you stop and think.”

“there has to be somebody in there,” julie said. “maybe they will let us in.”

“maybe,” bob agreed. “let’s find out.”

bob felt that he had been waiting for this moment all his life, that his destiny was about to be fulfilled.

julie’s mind was a blank.

part 24