Because of some real-world shenanigans (a very welcome houseguest and a preliminary sprucing-up of the household), our next chapter of Railroad Train to Heaven will be postponed for a week. In its stead we present the following cautionary tale which originally appeared this past January in somewhat different form, and illustrated by Rhoda Penmarq, in New Tales of the Hotel St Crispian.
“The Man in the Dark Grey Overcoat”
by Horace P. Sternwall
(Originally published in Morbid Stories, January, 1950. Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Associate Professor of Post Post-Modern Literature, Olney Community College; editor of Pensées for a Rainy Day by Horace P. Sternwall; the Olney Community College Press.)
Jake knew you had to be careful what you said to guests. Some of these people just weren’t broad-minded, and some of them weren’t above squawking to the management or even to the cops. You had to size a guy up first before saying anything.
So take the big tall fat fellow in the dark grey overcoat and check muffler and dark brown fedora. He had a big red fat Irish mug on him, and what Jake figured, he figured he was an undertaker. And one thing Jake knew about undertakers, they always had the moolah, and plenty of it. On account of theirs was a profession that never had an off season. So as soon as they got up to his room Jake tossed the fat man’s suitcase on the bed, turned to him and said.
“I just want you to know, sir, if there’s anything like special you might need, you just let me know.”
“Special?” the fat man said.
“Yeah. Special. Like something off the menu.”
“Off the menu?”
“Yeah, you know, sir. Like say you wanted some, like, companionship.”
The fat man took off his scarf, and Jake saw the Roman collar around the man’s thick neck.
“Ah, gee, Father,” he said. “I didn’t know.”
“What didn’t you know?”
“That you was a priest.”
“Oh? And does that matter?”
The priest took off his hat and tossed it onto the dresser. He began to unbutton his overcoat.
“What’s your name, pal?”
“Are you Catholic, Jake?”
“I ain’t nothing, Father.”
“You ain’t nothing?”
“Nothing. You know what I think, Father?”
“What’s that, Jake?”
“I think we get one shot on this crazy merry-go-round. And it’s up to us we gonna be chumps or we gonna look out for number one. That’s my religion, Father. But, hey, that’s just me.”
The fat priest tossed his overcoat onto a chair and then reached into the the inner breast-pocket of his priest-jacket and brought out a pack of Old Golds.
Jake was right there with his trusty Zippo, and he gave the priest a light.
“You’re welcome, Father.”
Jake stood there. Priest or no priest, Jake still wasn’t going to leave the room before he got some kind of a tip, even if it was only two bits. It was matter of pride, really, professional pride.
“Do me a favor, Jake,” said the priest, after half a minute, “open up that suitcase on the bed there.”
“Sure thing, Father.”
Jake went over to the bed, clicked the clasps, and opened the lid.
“Lift that layer of shirts and underwear out and just lay them on the bed, will you, Jake?”
“Sure thing, Father,” said Jake, and he did as the priest asked him. Under the layer of underwear and shirts was what looked like a small black leather briefcase.
“That’s what we call the sacrament case,” said the priest.
“Oh,” said Jake. “No kidding.”
The priest looked at Jake, as if he were sizing him up for once and for all, then he reached into the outside breast pocket of his priest-suit jacket, and brought out a small key. He tossed it to Jake, and Jake caught it.
“Go ahead, open it up, Jake.”
“You want me to open up the sacrament case?”
“Yeah, go ahead. I think it will interest you to see its contents.”
Jake hesitated for a moment, then he thought, what’s the worst that could happen?
He turned, leaned down, unlocked the leather case, and then opened the lid.
“Oh my God,” he said. “Oh my God.”
He turned and looked at the priest.
“Oh my God,” he said, again.
The priest reached into his inside jacket pocket and brought out a pint flask.
“You a drinking man, Jake?”
(Illustrated by Rhoda Penmarq, for Penmarq Hi-Class Art Studios™, in association with Horace P. Sternwall Productions™. )