Saturday, March 23, 2019

“Blanche Weinberg, Lady Psychiatrist”

“So I been taking your advice, Doc,” said Pete. “I been trying to listen to people instead of just interrupting them so I can put in my own two cents.”

“That’s great, Peter,” said Dr. Weinberg. “And how does that make you feel?”

“Can I be honest, Doc? I mean, can I really be honest?”

One thing about Pete Willingham, he was always honest, thought Dr. Weinberg. Delusional, but honest. 

“Sure, Peter,” she said. “I would like you always to be honest, because if you’re not honest –”

“I know, I know, if I ain’t honest then I’ll never achieve self-actualization, am I right?”

“Yes, that’s right, Peter,” said Dr. Weinberg.

“So here’s the thing, Doc. I listen to these people. I mean, I want to butt in, that ain’t changed, but like you told me, I bite my tongue. And they go on, talking about whatever, and a funny thing happens, Doc, I find myself, drifting, drifting, off into the clouds, and I know they’re talking, but I ain’t hearing nothing. And then after a while this other person will say, ‘So, what do ya think, Pete?’ And I gotta blink and take a minute because I got no idea what they were talking about. That ever happen to you, Doc, sitting here all day listening to nuts like me?”

Dr. Weinberg paused before answering, and lighted another cigarette. She had just told Pete Willingham to be honest, so was it not also incumbent upon her to tell the truth?

“Yes, Peter,” she said, finally, “it happens to me.”

Blanche Weinberg, Lady Psychiatrist, by “Hannah Pierce Sandler” (Horace P. Sternwall), a Corgi Books paperback original, 1958; “Dr. Blanche cured the souls of tortured people – but could she find the cure for the emptiness in her own heart?”

Friday, March 22, 2019

“The Last of the Elegant International Assassins”

Ever since he was fourteen years old, the only thing Billy Baskins ever wanted to be was an elegant international assassin. But how did you go about becoming one? He scoured the magazines at Doc Williams’s pharmacy for hints about how to break into the business, but to no avail. 

“Billy, stop reading those magazines and finish sweeping up,” Doc Williams would say. “I pay you for sweeping, not for reading magazines.”

For twelve years Billy worked at Doc’s, and when he had saved up five hundred dollars he figured that must be enough to start his new career on, so he gave his notice and took the bus to New York City, which he figured was a heck of a lot more likely a place to start a career as an international assassin than Wheeler’s Corners.

He got a one-room apartment at Bleecker and the Bowery, above a bar called Bob’s Bowery Bar. There were a lot of shifty-looking characters in that bar, and something told Billy that this was as good a place as any to start his new career.

He began going into the bar at four in the afternoon, when they started their two-for-one happy hour, and he always ordered the same thing, a glass of their “basement-brewed” house bock. He would sit there and try to look mysterious, and sure enough, one day this woman started to talk to him. She wasn’t really pretty or glamorous like the dames in the magazines, but then Billy knew he wasn’t anything to write home about either, so who was he to be critical?

“Buy me a drink, big boy?”

“Sure,” said Billy, and she ordered a Tokay wine.

After some small talk she said, “So, what’s your line, Billy, if you have a line?”

“I’m not so sure I should tell you,” said Billy.

“Come on, you can tell me. Spill.”

“Well,” said Billy, “don’t tell anybody, but I’m an international assassin.”

“No kidding?”

“No kidding.”

“So what do you charge to bump somebody?”

That was a tricky question. He hadn’t actually thought about how much he should charge. The elegant international assassins in the magazines got fantastic sums for their work, but, after all, Billy was just starting out.

“I guess I could do a job for fifty dollars,” he said.

“Fifty? I ain’t got fifty. Would you do a job for a double sawbuck?”

Twenty dollars. That wasn’t much, but, then again, maybe it would be worth it, just to get his feet wet.

“I guess I could do a job for a double sawbuck, I mean, for a friend.”

“I’ll be your friend, Billy.”

“Okay, then.”

“So how about you bump my old man for me. He’s mean, and he beats me, and also he’s got a life insurance policy, and when I get the insurance money I’ll give you another thirty, which would make it fifty altogether.”

“Well, okay, but only because you’re my friend. What did you say your name was?”

“I didn’t, but it’s Marie. So it’s a deal?”

“Okay. When you want it done by?”

“Soon as possible.”

It was a start. Everybody had to start somewhere, even international assassins. After a few more rounds, Marie admitted she didn’t have a double sawbuck, so she asked Billy if he would do the job on account. Billy said okay, because he was a little drunk, and also because he thought maybe Marie would make savage love with him, like the dames in the magazines always did.

The Last of the Elegant International Assassins, by Horace P. Sternwall, a Midway Books “paperback original”, 1952; one printing, never republished.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

"The Buttinski"

“Here’s the thing, Pete,” said Dr. Weinberg, “you’re never going to be able to hold down a job, to have friends, maybe even someday – who knows – to find a girlfriend, until you learn to listen to other people instead of just waiting for an opportunity to butt in and spout your own opinions, to make yourself seem special, to –”

“Okay, I hear what you’re saying, Doc, but if I may just interject a moment.”

Dr. Weinberg sighed, and tapped out another one of her Vogue ladies’ cigarettes.

“Sure, Pete, what is it?”

“Can I help it if other people are so boring and stupid?”

She lit the cigarette, inhaled deeply, and slowly exhaled. This guy was going to drive her nuts. She looked at her watch.

“Oh, my, look at the time. Okay, Pete, we’ll pick this up next time.”

“Sure, Doc. You have a nice day.”

Pete got the note to show his probation officer in case he got checked up on, went out and caught the subway back downtown. He would be just in time for the 2-for-1 “happy hour” at Bob’s Bowery Bar, which was practically the only bar in the city south of 42nd Street that he hadn’t been flagged from yet.

– The Buttinski, by Horace P. Sternwall, a Monarch “paperback original”, 1957; republished as The Tedious Fellow, by “Hugh Palmerston Stubbins”, the Quayside Press (U.K.), 1959.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

"The Man Who Loved Himself"

Pete Willingham didn’t know why that court-appointed lady shrink Dr. Weinberg kept insisting that he was a narcissist, as if it was some kind of a bad thing. Narcissism meant you loved yourself, right? And what was so bad about loving yourself? Nobody else loved Pete, that was for sure, so he might as well darn tooting love himself himself, or at least that was the way Pete looked at it. Was it his fault that the rest of the world couldn’t see what a swell guy he was? 

The Man Who Loved Himself, by Horace P. Sternwall, Midwood Books, 1957; revised and republished as The Chap Who Loved Himself, by “Hobart P. Shillingsworth”, Corgi Books (U.K.), 1959; both editions one printing only.