Apparently October fifteenth is a kind of magical date in this particular holiday world. Everything closes down on that day, except along the major highways. It is supposed to be the beginning of winter. There is the hunting season coming up, but the rich hunters have their own hunting clubs and camps in the mountains, and the poor ones take their cars to one or another of the picnic areas and climb up into the forests before dawn to get their deer. Anyway, around October fifteenth the tourists disappear from the scene and there is no more easy money to be made in the Adirondacks.
As closing day came nearer, there was a good deal of talk on the telephone between the Phanceys and Mr. Sanguinetti in Troy, and on the eleventh Mrs. Phancey told me casually that she and Jed would be leaving for Troy on the thirteenth and would I mind staying in charge that night and handing over the keys to Mr. Sanguinetti, who would be coming up finally to close the place around noon on the fourteenth?
It seemed a vague sort of arrangement to leave an unknown girl in charge of such a valuable property, but it was explained that the Phanceys would be taking the cash and the register and the stock of food and drinks with them, and all I had to do was switch off the lights and lock up before I went to bed. Mr. Sanguinetti would be coming up with trucks for the rest of the movables the next morning. Then I could be on my way. So I said yes, that would be all right, and Mrs. Phancey beamed and said I was a very good girl, but when I asked if she would give me a reference, she got cagey and said she would have to leave that to Mr. Sanguinetti, but she would make a point of telling him how helpful I had been.
So the last day was spent packing things into their station wagon until the stores and cafeteria were empty of everything except plenty of bacon and eggs and coffee and bread for me and for the truckers to eat when they came up.
That last day I had expected the Phanceys to be rather nice to me. After all, we had got on all right together and I had gone out of my way to be helpful about everything. But, oddly enough, they were just the reverse. Mrs. Phancey ordered me about as if I was a maid, and Jed became tough and nasty in his leching, using filthy words even when his wife was in earshot, and quite openly, reaching for my body whenever he got within range. I couldn't understand the change. It was as if they had had what they wanted out of me and could now discard me with contempt—and even, it seemed to me, almost with loathing. I got so furious that I finally went to Mrs. Phancey and said I was going and could I have my money? But she just laughed and said, Oh, no. Mr. Sanguinetti would be giving me that. They couldn't take a chance of the cutlery being short when he came to count it. After this, and rather than face them at supper, I made myself some jam sandwiches and went and locked myself in my cabin and prayed for the morning, when they would be gone. And, as I have said, six o'clock did at last come and I saw the last of the monsters.
And now this was my last night at The Dreamy Pines and tomorrow I would be off again. It had been a slice of life, not totally unpleasant in spite of the Phanceys, and I had learned the fringes of a job that might stand me in good stead. I looked at my watch. It was nine o'clock, and here was the doomful WOKO from Albany with its storm bulletin. The Adirondacks would be clear by midnight. So, with any luck, I would have dry roads in the morning. I went behind the cafeteria bar, turned on the electric cooker, and put out three eggs and six slices of hickory-smoked bacon. I was hungry.
And then came a loud hammering on the door.
Eight: Dynamite from Nightmare-Land
MY heart went to my mouth. Who could it possibly be? And then I remembered. The VACANCY sign! I had pulled the switch when the lightning struck and I had forgotten to turn the damned thing off. What an idiot! The banging started up again. Well, I would just have to face it, apologize, and send the people on to Lake George. I went nervously across to the door, unlocked it, and held it on the chain.
There was no porch. The neon VACANCY sign made a red halo in the sheet of rain and glittered redly on the shiny black oilskins and hoods of the two men. Behind them was a black sedan. The leading man said politely, “Miss Michel?”
“Yes, that's me. But I'm afraid the VACANCY sign's on by mistake. The motel's closed down.”
“Sure, sure. We're from Mr. Sanguinetti. From his insurance company. Come to make a quick inventory before things get taken away tomorrow. Can we come in out of the rain, miss? Show you our credentials inside. Sure is a terrible night.”
I looked doubtfully from one to the other, but I could see little of the faces under the oilskin hoods. It sounded all right, but I didn't like it. I said nervously, “But the Phanceys, the managers, they didn't say anything about you coming.”
“Well, they should of, miss. I'll havta report that back to Mr. Sanguinetti.” He turned to the man behind him. “That right, Mr. Jones?”
The other man stifled a giggle. Why did he giggle? “Sure, that's right, Mr. Thomson.” He giggled again.
“Okay then, miss. Can we come inside, please? It sure is wetter'n hell out here.”
“Well, I don't know. I was told not to let anyone in. But as it's from Mr. Sanguinetti...” I nervously undid the chain and opened the door.
They pushed in, shouldering roughly past me, and stood side by side, looking the big room over. The man who had been addressed as “Mr. Thomson” sniffed. Black eyes looked at me out of a cold gray face. “You smoke?”
“Yes, a little. Why?”
“Reckoned you could have company.” He took the door handle from me, slammed the door, locked it, and put up the chain. The two men stripped off their dripping oilskins and threw them messily down on the floor and, now that I could see them both, I felt in extreme danger.
“Mr. Thomson,” obviously the leader, was tall and thin, almost skeletal, and his skin had this gray, drowned look as if he always lived indoors. The black eyes were slow-moving, incurious, and the lips thin and purplish like an unstitched wound. When he spoke there was a glint of gray silvery metal from his front teeth, and I supposed they had been cheaply capped with steel, as I had heard was done in Russia and Japan. The ears lay very flat and close to the bony, rather box-shaped head and the stiff grayish-black hair was cut so close to the skull that the skin showed whitely through it. He was wearing a black, sharp-looking single-breasted coat with shoulders padded square, stovepipe trousers so narrow that the bones of his knees bulged through the material, and a gray shirt buttoned up to the throat with no tie. His shoes were pointed in the Italian style and of gray suede. They and the clothes looked new. He was a frightening lizard of a man, and my skin crawled with fear of him.
Where this man was deadly the other was merely unpleasant—a short, moon-faced youth with wet, very pale blue eyes and fat wet lips. His skin was very white and he had that hideous disease of no hair—no eyebrows and no eyelashes, and none on a head that was as polished as a billiard ball. I would have felt sorry for him if I hadn't been so frightened, particularly as he seemed to have a bad cold and began blowing his nose as soon as he got his oilskins off. Under them he wore a black leather windcheater, grubby trousers, and those Mexican saddle-leather boots with straps that they wear in Texas. He looked a young monster, the sort that pulls wings off flies, and I desperately wished that I had dressed in clothes that didn't make me seem so terribly naked.
Sure enough, he now finished blowing his nose and seemed to take me in for the first time. He looked me over grinning delightedly. Then he walked all round me and came back and gave a long, low whistle. “Say, Horror.” He winked at the other man. “This is some bimbo! Git an eyeful of those knockers! And a rear-end to match! Geez, what a dish!”
“Not now, Sluggsy. Later. Git goin' and look those cabins over. Meantime, the lady's goin' to fix us some chow. How you want your eggs?”
The man called Sluggsy grinned at me. “Scramble em', baby. And nice and wet. Like mother makes. Otherwise poppa spank. Right across that sweet little biscuit of yours. Oh boy, oh boy!” He did some little dancing, boxing steps toward me, and I backed away to the door. I pretended to be even more frightened than I was, and when he got within range I slapped him as hard as I could across the face and, before he could recover from his surprise, I had darted sideways behind a table and picked up one of the little metal chairs and held it with the feet pointing at him.
The thin man gave a short, barking laugh. “Ixnay, Sluggsy. I said later. Leave the stupid slot be. There's all night for that. Git goin' like I said.”
The eyes in the pale moon-face were now red with excitement. The man rubbed his cheek. The wet lips parted in a slow smile. “You know what, baby? You just earned yourself one whale of a night. An' it's goin' to be long and slow an' again and again. Get me?”
I looked at them both from behind the raised chair. Inside I was whimpering. These men were dynamite from Nightmare-Land. Somehow I kept my voice steady. “Who are you? What's this all about? Let's see those credentials. The next car that comes by, I'll break a window and get help. I'm from Canada. You do anything to me and you'll be in bad trouble tomorrow.”
Sluggsy laughed. “Tomorrow's tomorrow. What you got to worry about's tonight, baby.” He turned to the thin man. “Mebbe you better wise her up, Horror. Then mebbe we'll get some cooperation.”
Horror looked across at me. His expression was cold, uninterested. “Ya shouldn't of hit Sluggsy, lady. The boy's tough. He don't like the dames not to go for him. Thinks it may be on account of his kisser. Been like that since he done a spell in solitary at San Q. Nervous sickness. What's that the docs call it, Sluggsy?”
Sluggsy looked proud. He brought the Latin words out carefully. “Alopecia totalis. That means no hair, see? Not a one.” He gestured at his body. “Not here, or here, or here. What d'ya know about that, eh, bimbo?”
Horror continued. “So Sluggsy gets mad easy. Thinks he ain't had a fair deal from society. You had that puss of his, mebbe you'd be the same. So he's what we call in Troy an enforcer. Guys hire him to make other guys do what they want, if you get me. He's on Mr. Sanguinetti's roll, and Mr. Sanguinetti thought he and I better come along and keep an eye on this joint till the truckers come. Mr. Sanguinetti didn't care for a young lady like you bein' all alone here at night. So he sent us along for company. Ain't that so, Sluggsy?”
“That's the spiel. Sure is.” He giggled. “Just to keep you company, bimbo. Keep the wolves away. With them statistics of yours, there must be times when you need protection real bad. Right?”
I lowered the chair onto the table top. “Well, what are your names? What about these credentials?”
There was a single tin of Maxwell House coffee on the shelf above the bar counter, all by itself. Sluggsy suddenly swiveled, and his right hand—I hadn't even seen him draw a gun—shot flame. There was the crash of gunfire. The tin jumped sideways and then fell. In midair Sluggsy hit it again and there was a brown explosion of coffee. Then a deafening silence in which the last empty shell tinkled away on the floor. Sluggsy turned back to me. His hands were empty. The gun had gone. His eyes were dreamy with pleasure at his marksmanship. He said softly, “How's them for credentials, baby?”