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FROM AN AFFADAVIT
By Roger P. Quinlan
... do take oath I never dreamed aught but the interests of science would be served by what I did ... And now, in the face of what has happened, and what may happen, which appalls me infinitely more, I can, as Milton, but think: Whence and what art thou, execrable shape?
... event of my violent death, my motion picture films may be of aid in combatting ...
The best that thou sawest was, and is Not; and shall Ascend out of the bottomless pit, And go into perdition, and they that dwell on The earth shall wonder.
ALEXANDER TITUS CLAMPED HIS elbows to his ribs, cocked his head back and ran. His hat shook off his fuzzy red hair. The missing hat emphasized the ample size of his ears. His coattails threshed.
Alexander Titus held his mouth as if he wanted to bite something.
The tall, dark and very, very handsome young man Titus was chasing reached his taxicab and dived frantically inside. The cab whistled its tires on the pavement in its haste to take off.
Titus put on speed. Four years ago it was in the dashes that he had piled up his best decathlon points in the Olympics. He nearly caught the cab. Had he been eight feet tall, and not six-feet-two, he might have succeeded in grabbing the spare tire. But the cab got away.
Titus stopped and said: "Black hair, a female-eyebrow-moustache, big feet. And he had that taxi following behind him."
Ordinarily, he did not talk to himself. But he knew that he could remember things better if he said them out loud.
Titus scratched thoughtfully in his thatch of red hair, then patted it down and went back to pick up his hat. No one else had seen the brief excitement, because at the moment there had been no other pedestrians on this poor Hollywood street of rooming houses. Titus stood on the sidewalk, looking belligerent and puzzled, for a while, then walked around the corner to the house where he and Haw Gooch had a room.
The rooming house was a white wooden box three stories high, with small windows. The carpet was worn down to the thread, and most of the stair treads squeaked.
Haw Gooch sat on a chair, facing the bed. The chair did not have a particularly high back, but Haw's head hardly reached above it. He gave the impression of being as wide as he was tall, and he had recently had his head shaved. His ears were hardly more than bristle tufts.
An array of medals and prize cups was spread out on the bed in front of Haw.
Haw, without looking around, said: "Here's one: 'Daddy,' the little boy says, 'give me a dime and I'll tell you what the iceman said to mama.' And daddy gets all excited and says: 'O.K. Here it is.' And the little boy says: 'The iceman said, Want any ice this mornin', Missus?' ... Haw, haw! Pretty good, eh? I just thought it up."
Titus walked over, looked out of the window, didn't see anything alarming, then came back and looked at the medals.
"Doing some figuring again, eh?"
Haw grinned sheepishly and rubbed his nose, or as much of it as gloved fists had not mashed level with the rest of his homely face. "Look, Titus, we gotta eat. And Uncle John down at the hockshop would give up something on these."
"Put 'em back!" Titus directed firmly. "The medals and a few newspaper clippings are all I've got to show that I was on the front pages of every good newspaper in the world four years ago."
"And you didn't turn professional and cash in," Haw sighed.
Titus laughed. "I'm not kicking. I didn't go into athletics to get rich. It's no profession to pick for a lifework."
Haw sighed again, more deeply. "Boy, you were good. You still are. You should've tried for last summer's Olympic team. A trip to Berlin. Regular eats. Imagine! Imagine!"
"I have, several times," Titus admitted. "But right now, my imagination is busy with something else."
"Watcha mean, Titus?"
"Let's go down to the pig stand and start eating our last dollar. I'll tell you on the way."
There was a white pig, probably made of wood and tin, on the roof of the building. The structure itself was round with a cone roof, and sat smack in the middle of an acre of gravel beside which ran a busy black boulevard.
PETE'S PIG PALACE
That was what the neon signs said. It was just another of Hollywood's queer lunch stands.
"A squeal and a java," Haw told the girl back of the counter.
"Same," Titus said.
Haw squinted at Titus. "You mean to tell me some fellow started following you around? And he ran when you tried to talk to him?"
"And you didn't know him? And you don't have any idea why he was tailing you?"
"Not a smell of an idea."
"What was the taxi license number?"
"The taxi license plates," Titus explained, "were smeared with mud."
"But there ain't been any rain recently."
"I thought of that, too," Titus said.
Their barbecued pork sandwiches were placed before them, napkin wrapped and stuck through with a toothpick. The coffee followed, in thick mugs. They ate silently, taking small bites, but looking as if they would like to take big ones, and both loaded their coffee with plenty of sugar, Titus having previously explained the energy-giving value of it.
As Titus stirred his coffee, he prodded around in his memory. But no recollection could he find of having met the very handsome dark man with the large feet—the fellow who had reason for the following. It was puzzling.
Other than Haw, Titus considered that he had only one real acquaintance in Hollywood. Carl Brockman, head of a motion picture distributing outfit. Swell people, Carl. He'd promised to keep an eye open for a job for Titus and Haw when they landed in Hollywood three weeks ago looking for work. Carl wasn't the kind who said something like that and then forgot about it, either. Titus decided he'd phone Carl, on the chance that a job might have turned ...
Haw chuckled, "Here's one. The actor goes into the restaurant and says: 'Bring me a Hollywood breakfast.' The waiter says: 'What's that?' The actor says: 'A big pork chop, a bulldog and a bottle of whisky.' The waiter, stumped, says: 'Why the bulldog?' And the actor, holding his head, yells: 'To eat the pork chop, you fool!' Haw, haw! Good, eh? I just made it up."
Titus sighed and put their dollar on the counter. "Give me a nickel package of that butterscotch candy," he said to the waiter.
He liked butterscotch candy.
A voice behind Titus screeched: "Oh, my God!"
Titus whirled and saw, for the first time, the frightened man.
The frightened man was dashing madly across the gravelled pig stand parking lot. He had one arm over his head, as if protecting himself from something. The man himself was a long dark bag of bones. His blue suit, while good, needed pressing, and the pockets bulged. His face was distorted. His eyes bulged. He ran as if death were on his heels.
There was nothing visible chasing him.
Titus, staring, was astonished. But not nearly as astonished as he was when the terrified man rushed straight to him, grabbed his arm and cowered behind him.
"Take it easy, man," Titus said, and held the man's shoulders.
The man shook from head to foot. His breathing was in tremulous jerks. The terrified vibration of his arms and torso made his clothing flutter.
Titus and Haw craned their necks and looked for anything that might have frightened the man. They saw nothing. Haw said: "I'll be danged," and sounded bewildered.
The scared man, seeming to absorb courage from the grip of Titus' brown muscular hands, gradually conquered his trembling. He breathed deeply several times.
"I—uh—I" He swallowed. "Suh-sorry."
"Sure. Everybody gets in a hurry at one time or another," Titus said.
Nervously, the frightened man hitched up his trousers, then straightened his coat. He patted the bulging pockets as if to assure himself that the contents were still there.
"I—ah—silly of me," he muttered faintly. "I was—I had the awful feeling that—I let myself go, I guess. Silly of me."
Pausing, he ran his eyes over the muscular young giant who was Titus. And his next words gave Titus a surprise.
"I was cuh-coming to see you, Mister Titus," he said.
"Yes. If you're not working, I'd luh-like to employ you."
Titus thoughtfully peeled paper from a butterscotch. He chewed it for a while.
"I don't get this," he said dryly.
The frightened man moistened his lips, glanced around uneasily, then said: "It's really quite simple. I saw you coming out of an employment agency and recognized you. It occurred to me you were just the man I needed. The employment agency gave me your address, and I drove up. I saw you over here. My name is Roger P. Quinlan."
Roger P. Quinlan was a name that meant absolutely nothing to Titus.
"Could you use me, too, Mister Quinlan?" Haw asked.
Quinlan hesitated. "I believe I could."
"You've hired two men," Haw said.
"Wait a minute!" Titus interposed sharply. "What kind of job is this?"
"Ah—well—companions," Quinlan said hesitantly.
Quinlan felt in his pockets. "Y'yes."
"What are you afraid of?" Titus demanded bluntly.
The query seemed to bring back some of Quinlan's nervous fright, for he looked at the ground and his hands trembled visibly.
"I'm suh-sorry," he said slowly. "You wouldn't—you wouldn't think my mind was rational if I told you. No, I can't tell you that. But any time you wish, you can quit working for me."
Titus swallowed the butterscotch thoughtfully and said: "My friend and I had better talk this over by ourselves."
Titus led Haw to the other side of the pig stand, out of earshot of their queer would-be employer.
"Ye gods and little fish!" Haw said. "You're not gonna let a job get away from us?"
"It smells phony, Haw. Extremely queer." Titus shook his head.
"It's a job. Right up our alley, too. May be some action in it."
Titus frowned. "Wouldn't think he was rational—if he told us what he was afraid of! Look, Haw, the fellow may be, well—lying."
"O.K., if he's got money."
"That," Titus admitted, "is not to be overlooked."
Haw grinned and said, "I just thought of one. The traveling man noticed five holes in the door of the old hillbilly's cabin. He said: 'Pop, if I'm not being nosey, what are the five holes for?' The hillbilly says: 'Waal, Mister, I got five cats.' And the traveling man, puzzled, says: 'But couldn't all the cats use one hole?' And the hillbilly answers: 'Mister, when I say scat, I mean Scat!' Good, eh?"
"You thought that one up?" Titus asked, not smiling.
"Sure. Where'd you think I got it?"
"Off the Mayflower, probably," Titus said. "Let's go tell him we'll take his job. But I've a feeling we're letting ourselves in for something."
If Titus and Haw expected the new job to produce action in the course of the rest of the day, they were disappointed. But it furnished them with plenty of mystification.
Something that happened before they left the pig stand gave them an eerie feeling. The cook in the stand got too much grease on his griddle, turned his fire up too high, and the grease suddenly became a hissing bundle of flames.
Quinlan, the frightened man, cried out in horror! His hands flew up before his face. And his eyes popped as he ogled the squirming red flames.
Considering that the flames were fifteen feet from Quinlan, his terror was surprising, and it moved Titus and Haw to exchange strange looks.
But they closed the deal and their strange employer gave them twenty dollars, ten apiece. "Will ten dollars a day be satisfactory?" he asked.
"Barring earthquakes, floods and parades of spike-tailed devils, it will," Haw told him.
For some reason, that statement made frightened Roger P. Quinlan shudder. Both Titus and Haw remembered that later.
The man, it seemed, wanted them to accompany him everywhere he went. He made only one trip downtown, however, and that was to the post office, where he apparently got no mail. It was on this jaunt that Quinlan mystified them further.
Without the slightest warning, Quinlan dived a hand into his left coat pocket, whipped out a small, expensive miniature camera, whirled and took a picture. He seemed to take the picture at random.
He did not explain why he did this.
In the course of the afternoon, he took more snapshots in the same fashion. Always, it was suddenly, wildly, without the slightest warning. The camera was the type that took almost three dozen pictures on a 35 m.m. film with one loading. Titus happened to know that such a toy, with a quota of lenses, cost close to five hundred dollars.
Once, Quinlan did say: "You—ah—no doubt think this is queer."
Titus shrugged. "After you've been around Hollywood, you sort of get used to seeing queer things.
When Quinlan finished off a roll of film, he extracted it carefully from the camera, put it in a carton and gave it to Titus.
"In case—well—in case something happens to me, have that printed, will you? It may be of—help. In the meantime, I'd prefer you not to ask questions."
Titus pocketed the film, wondering what pictures of an empty street, of which the queer Quinlan had taken several, could show.
Later they found out that Quinlan expected to stay in their rooming house with them. The landlady fixed him up with the room adjacent, which connected with the bare chamber occupied by Titus and Haw.
Quinlan retired to the room about eleven that night and they heard him locking the doors.
Haw said: "How's this? Rastus got to bragging about how he wasn't afraid to stay in a house that was supposed to be haunted. His friends left him in the house at dark. The next morning they went back, but there was no trace of Rastus boy. They searched for him for the next five days. On the sixth day, Rastus come dragging in with his clothes torn and all dusty, and he was barely able to walk, he was so tired. A friend yelled: "What on earth yo-all been dese last six days?' And Rastus says merely: 'Ah's been comin' back.' Haw, haw! Good, what?"
Titus ate two packages of butterscotch slowly before he went to sleep.
When he awakened, he lay still for a while, and then he knew there was a prowler in the room.CHAPTER 2
Hell from beneath is moved for thee To meet thee at thy coming.
IT WAS NEAR THE door, which had evidently just closed, and in closing, had awakened Titus. He could hear feet feeling across the worn carpet.
Beside Titus, the squat form of Haw bulged gently in sleep. Haw's snoring, while not quite deafening, could be depended upon. Down in the street, a car went past, and under cover of the noise it made, Titus got his feet out from under the blanket and got set to jump. He also reached over and put a finger in Haw's ear, knowing from experience that this would stop the snoring for as long as five minutes at a time.
When Haw stopped snoring, the feet stopped moving over the floor, and there was silence, intense and black. Titus's watch, a trophy he had won by coming within a shade of the world's broad jump record, ticked furiously where he had put it on his folded trousers on the chair.
By now, Titus had distinguished the intruder as a pile of deeper darkness, a narrow and not very tall pile that changed shape a little. A dab of orange-colored light appeared. The marauder had put a hand over the flashlight and turned it on; it was the light glowing through the hand that made the orange blur.
Titus took off. It was not quite the same as a broad jump, but the training helped. He hit the intruder. They went down. The flashlight flew into a corner. Titus got his hair pulled. He roughed the prowler out flat on the floor and suddenly made a discovery.
Haw began snoring again.
Titus held the woman—she felt like a small woman or a girl—and waited for something to happen, but nothing did, and he remembered he was close enough to the light switch to turn it on. He did so, reaching up.
Haw stopped snoring and mumbled sleepily: "Here's one I just dreamed. Jack met Jill on the avenue and Jill says: 'Say, is my face dirty, or is it just my imagination?' And Jack says: 'Your face isn't dirty, but I wouldn't know about your imagination.' Haw, haw! Good— say! What the hell's goin' on in here?"
Haw sat up in bed, grotesque in his old-fashioned nightshirt. He stared.
Titus said: "I told you this job would let us in for something."
Haw studied the young woman admiringly. "If it just lets in another one like her, it'll be great stuff. Where'd you get her?"
She was a small girl with a figure that had Venus whipped several ways. Personally, Titus had always considered Venus a bit on the hefty side. This girl had a small nose, slightly retroussé, and her eyes were an enchanting shade of brown, while her hair was a wealth of color a little darker than gold. Altogether, she was a ravishing bit of femininity.
"Whew!" Titus said feelingly, and enjoyed a tingling sensation down to his toes.
"You overgrown clown!" the young woman exclaimed. "Let me go!"
Titus heartily approved of her voice, too.
He picked her up, as lightly and as tenderly as he could, carried her over to Haw and said: "Hold her."
"O.K.!" Haw exclaimed with more enthusiasm than Titus cared for.
Excerpted from Hades & Hocus Pocus by Lester Dent. Copyright © 1979 Pulp Press. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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