BOGERT H. NIVENS turned the key in the back door and slithered into his House of Dreams with the furtive insouciance of a cop helping himself to a big red apple. Bogert H. Nivens, Jr., who was two feet behind him laterally and nearly three feet below him vertically, did likewise.
“We made it!” Bogert Junior shrilled.
“Shush!” Bogert Senior said, throwing a wellstacked torso against the door in a gesture of terror that was not wholly counterfeit. “The very trees have ears,” he added darkly. f
Bogert Junior lowered his voice. “How now, good Robin?” he whispered companionably.
“How now, Little John?” Bogert Senior replied absently as he drew the shades on the kitchen windows and snapped on the electric light.
“Methinks ye sheriff of Nottingham will be gashing his teeth tonight,” said Bogert Junior. “Gnashing,” Bogert Senior corrected.
Bogert Senior ferreted through the still half-filled icebox, and after a few primitive preparations sat Bogert Junior down to a supper of tinned soup and milk. Then he went wandering through the house, allowing his fingers to rejoice over the crisp drapes on its windows and the clean spreads on its two beds, and filling his nostrils with the good smell of new floor wax.
“What a break!” he said for the twentieth time that week. “What a steal!” He didn’t feel even remotely like a criminal.
To come right down to it, why should he? Maybe what he was doing was technically wrong, but morally, he felt positively sanctimonious. After all, what counted was the kid. Throw Bogert Nivens Senior right out of court if you liked, throw out his 39 operational trips in the rear gunner’s seat of a Lank, throw out the unspoken memory of the girl who for three and a half years had been only a faded picture in a pocketbook. But you still couldn’t get past the kid. Kids had a right to live in nice houses. Especially half-orphaned kids. And if houses were so scarce that not all kids could live in nice ones— well, it was still your job to fight for your own kid, first and hardest.
Bogert’s sense of righteousness rode over his undefended sense of guilt in an imperious surge. Who the blazes was this Miss Tillie Molson anyway? Miss Tillie Molson! The very name was a compounded felony. What could any Miss Tillie anything ever know or care about what it meant for a little boy to grow up in one of those Jaspar Street rooming dumps? Sure, this was her house. It belonged to her. She had a legal right to live there. So what?
“Selfish old harridan!” Bogert grunted, and tried to remember what further gen there was on Miss Tillie Molson. It wasn’t much. Even Betty and Herb, his brother and sister-in-law, had never met her in person, although they had been her tenants for upward of a year and had spent most of the time waging guerilla warfare with her in the courts.
It gave him a feeling of security now to go over the words Betty had spoken on the platform last night, just before she and Herb boarded the train for the West. “We’ve got an injunction against Tillie Molson,” Betty had said. “She can’t throw us out until next spring, if then. But, of course, if
Which of Endor
she finds out we’ve moved away and sublet the place to you, the game is up.
“Fortunately,” Betty had added, “Tillie is the formal, old-world type. Her idea of a neighborly advance is to shove a summons under the door. In her book there’s nothing to break the ice between strangers like a cordon of process servers. Actually, Miss Molson has never favored us with a visitation in the flesh. And frankly, we can wait.”
At this point Herb had cut in practically: “So all you have to do is try not to make yourself or Junior too conspicuous. I’ll send you cheques for the rent in my name, and you can send them on to the rental agent under a local postmark.”
These recollections filled Bogert with a glow of well-being. He was still glowing when he tucked his offspring into bed.
“Let’s run through the drill just once more,” he suggested.
Bogert Junior grinned. “Shoot, Pop,” he said. Bogert Senior clouted the end of the end of the bed with a large set of knuckles.
“Come in,” Bogert Junior said.
“Hello, little boy,” Bogert Senior said with an affable leer. “I didn’t know you lived here.”
“I don’t live here, mister,” Bogert Junior said cagily.
“Or Mrs.,” Bogert Senior cautioned. “Or Miss. Especially Miss. Don’t forget, Junior. It might be anybody. And you tell them all the same thing.”
“I know, I know,” Bogert Junior said impatiently.
Bogert Senior resumed his discreetly inquisitorial tone. “But if you don’t live here, little boy, what are you doing here now?”
“I am visiting my Aunt Betty and Uncle Herb.” “Then where are they?”
“They’re out of town for a day or two.”
Bogert Senior’s face became suffused with cunning. “And who is that other strange man I see around here lately?” he snapped.
“That - is - my - daddy,” Bogert Junior recited promptly and primly. “He-is-just-visiting-myAunt-Betty-and-U ncle-Herb-too. We-are-both-
Bogert Senior patted his son’s head with a mixture of affection and respect. “And you’re sure you won’t muff it?” he asked earnestly.
Bogert Junior looked mildly doubtful. “No—” he said. And then he blurted: “But, Pop, isn’t
that telling a story?”
Bogert guffawed with hollow heartiness. “Of course it’s a story,” he said. “And always bear in mind that stories are nearly always wicked, and you’ll go straight to reform school if you tell them. But this is a Robin Hood story. Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten about Robin Hood already?”
T30GERT JUNIOR curled up in delighted antici■U pation. “No, Pop,” he said. “But 1 like to near it. Fill me in again, will you, Pop?”
“It’s like this,” Bogert Senior said. “We’re Robin Hood and his merry men. That is, I’m Robin Hood and you’re Little John. Here we are in our hide-out in Sherwood Forest. We’re safe. As long as nobody finds us we can stay here and go on doing good deeds like—well, doing good deeds. But the Sheriff of Nottingham and his minions are scattered all through the Forest. They’re hot on the scent, see? The place is alive with spies and stool pigeons. Witches too. They’re always trying to get
clued up on just who we are, but we’re too smart for them. We dummy up. The Sheriff of Nottingham is a stupe anyway, and we’re not afraid of him much. But those witches are smarter. There’s one witch who’s especially dangerous. She’s just thirsting for our blood. But we fox her, see?”
“What’s the superwitch’s name, Pop?”
Bogert Senior clawed hastily through his skimpy mental file of folklore. “The Witch of Endor,” he said. “That’s her name. The Witch of Endor. Sometimes she uses the name of Miss Tillie Molson, hoping to fool us. But we don’t bite. We don’t tell her a thing.”
“How now, good Robin?” Bogert Junior chuckled.
“How now, Little John?” Bogert Senior chuckled back. Bogert Junior yawned contentedly and went to sleep.
The catastrophe could not accurately have been said to strike. It wafted down from nowhere, unannounced and softly, like falling thistledown. For the first month nothing Continued on page 38
Continued from page 11
happened. Nothing at all. Junior was away at school in the daytime anyway, and nigots Bogert Senior was on hand to run interference. Once or twice the next-door neighbors nodded and exchanged a few commonplace remarks with one or the other of them, obviously wondering all the while why they’d never noticed the cute little boy or his handsome father before. But nobody came right out and asked embarrassing questions. That was one thing about living in a big city. People weren’t particularly friendly, but at least they minded their own business.
Beyond all doubt or cavil, Bogert Senior was guilty of overconfidence. And on no given occasion was he more overconfident than on the night the catastrophe wafted.
He wasn’t away more than 10 minutes. When he came back from the corner drugstore, with a package of cigarettes for himself and the latest issue of Grisly Comics for Bogert Junior, the spectacle that greeted him was not what he had expected, but there was nothing to suggest it was one of those spectacles which call for the nervous start or the involuntary blanching of the cheek. The raised eyebrow, yes. The quizzical smile, by all means. Perhaps even a little gentlemanly ogling. But starting and blanching? Quite out of place in a situation like this.
The girl was pretty, and she seemed to be on excellent terms with Junior, with whom she was seated tête-à-tête on the chesterfield. Probably one of Betty’s college friends, Bogert Senior guessed, as his eyes swiftly prepared an interim report and gave the girl A’s for her black hair and brown eyes and her profile, and a B-plus for her candystriped dress.
Bogert exposed his teeth ingratiatingly and bowed. “Sorry,” he said, “I guess you were looking for my sister.”
“In a way I was,” the girl said.
Something in her Voice made Bogert suspect she was nervous. The voice was pleasant enough euphonic-ally, but right now it sounded a little strained. He decided to put her at her ease.
“It’s funny we haven’t met,” he said, exposing his teeth again, this time even more ingratiatingly than before.
“Oh, but we have,” the girl said brightly, looking Bogert in the eye in such a way that he was somehow impelled to return his teeth to their habitat.
“No!” Bogert said, trying to sound breathlessly incredulous.
“Yes!” the girl said firmly.
Bogert waited. The girl didn’t say anything more, so Bogert said, “Where?”
“In a trance,” she said sweetly. “One of your trances, I believe. Or was it just a hallucination? Or could it have been an opium dream? I was never very good about addresses.”
Bogert licked his lips uneasily. “Say, who are you?” he demanded.
“Just call me Endie,” she said, garnishing the words with a year’s sugar coupons.
Bogert closed his eyes. But when he opened them the girl was still there. “You know—” the girl said encouragingly, “short for the Witch of Endor.”
Bogert broke into an old-fashioned, Objective Essen, sweat. “My God, woman!” he cried, “are you really that —that—her?”
“Suppose we stop playing charades,” the girl suggested. “Until a few minutes ago I was known as Tillie Molson.”
Bogert rolled with the punch. He wheeled on his son and shouted: “What have you been telling this female flatfoot anyway?”
Bogert Junior shrank into the back of the chesterfield and began to whimper.
“I only told her what you said.”
“Don’t lie to your father!” Bogert Senior shouted virtuously. “What did you tell her?”
Tillie Molson began to shout too.
Continued on page 40
Continued from page 38 “You’re a fine one to talk about ly.ng. After teaching that poor child to tell enough stories to shame a whole cell block full of perjurers. You—you
“What did you tell her?” Bogert Senior bawled at Bogert Junior.
“I only told her what you said,” Bogert Junior sniffled. “First I told her the story about Aunt Betty and Uncle Herb being away, and then she was such a nice lady that I told her about Robin Hood and the Witch of Endor.” Bogert Senior panted with not very well-suppressed emotion.
“1 didn’t know she was a school pigeon,” Bogert Junior apologized timidly.
“Stool pigeon, stool pigeon!” Bogert Senior corrected pedantically. “Not school pigeon. Stool pigeon.”
“Go ahead,” the girl said evenly. “Stool pigeon. Flatfoot. Witch. If you’d be good enough to find me a fourth, I could play myself a rubber of bridge.”
Bogert’s none too accurate instinct sensed the stuff of womanly weakness here, and he pressed to the attack.
“Madam,” Bogert said, “if I have offended you, I apologize. But after all, please remember I am holding a private conversation with my own son in my own house.”
“Your house!” Tillie Molson cried. “Yourhouse! Oh!”
“Oh, indeed, madam,” Bogert said grandly, pursuing his conception of strategy. “It won’t do you any good, you know. Go ahead and turn it over to your lawyer. But I’m still not moving. I know my rights, madam.” “If I decide to put you out,” Tillie Molson said with unexpected serenity, “I’ll put you out. And I won’t need a lawyer to help me either. I’ll handle the whole thing myself. Just me and my little broomstick.” There was a dangerous glint in her eye. It was wasted on Bogert Nivens.
“Go ahead then!” Bogert yelled, carried beyond reason by the excitement. “I’ll get an injunction. I’ll get a fiat. I’ll get a cartel.”
“Why not get a soap box?” Tillie Molson suggested. A moment later she slammed the door.
BOGERT NIVENS SENIOR sat
down and stared moodily at the floor. Bogert Junior sat down too, and stared moodily at Bogert Senior. Bogert Junior was the first to rally. “How now, good Robin?” he said in highly tentative accents of cameraderie.
“You should ask!” Bogert Senior groaned. He straightened up and managed a sickly smile. “I mean, how now, Little John?”
Miss Tillie Molson was true to her word. She didn’t call a lawyer at all. Not for Tillie Molson the sheriff, the bailiff or the process server. Everything she did, she did by herself. Just her and her little broomstick, and such props and spear bearers as were handiest and most mobile.
The first night nothing happened. The second night 111 former members of the RCAF arrived in a disorderly and festive sequence, most of them equipped with brown-paper parcels that gurgled, and all of them directly motivated by an item that had appeared in the classified columns of the two evening newspapers.
“Attention all former air crew,” the advertisement read. “Open house tonight at 1812 Vincent Street West. Dress: civvies. Gear: You know what. What can you lose?”
Bogert received his first warning when the first wave made its target run just, after 2100 hours. Some of the early arrivals, as Miss Tillie Molson had been just cute enough to guess they
would be when she drafted the ad, were friends of his. After all, he couldn’t turn them away. To be perfectly accurate, nobody could turn them away—not until the squad car called for the third time at 5 a.m. under constant prodding from the neighbors. Up till then Bogert Junior was having a fine time, and Bogert Senior was by no means minding it either.
The third night was quieter. Just a reunion of the Sergeants Mess of the 117th Seaboard Infantry Regiment, not more than 30 in all. When Bogert saw what was happening to him, he had enough judgment to bundle Junior out of bed and take him over to his cousin’s place. But he couldn’t turn the sergeants away either, even after everybody realized it was a mistake. They weren’t responsible for his deranged landlady either.
The fourth night the class of 1919 of the city’s most disreputable grade school showed up, along with the remnants of a weight-lifting team that had won a national championship in the early 1920’s. By then Bogert had resigned himself to a state of siege. Junior remained a displaced person at his cousin’s house.
Bogert swore grimly that he would shoo the next delegation away for sure, but when the Past Grand Masters of the Order of the Gnu showed up 19 strong, on the fifth night, the honor went to his head. The next afternoon, as he tottered toward the end of what barely passed for a day’s work, he made a decision. “Nobody gets into my house unless he’s preceded by a bulldozer,” he promised.
On the way home he picked up Bogert Junior. As the streetcar rolled them up the hill he turned automatically to the classified ads in his evening paper. When he read Miss Molson’s newest operational order, his first reaction was of relief, slightly tinged with bafflement.
MUST SELL MY 1944 STOLTZ SEDAN AT ONCE! the advertisement read. Five new tires, gone 17,000 miles, perfect running condition. Drive it away for $600 cash. No tradein required. Call in person at 1812 Vincent Street after 6 p.m.
She’s weakening, he assured himself wildly. She’s slipping. Why, he didn’t have a car of any kind, much less a 1944 luxury model. And even if he had, he wouldn’t be so foolish as to sell it for half the ceiling price. Undeniably, Tillie was running out of ideas. Maybe Bogert was going to get a night’s sleep at last. Maybe he was going to lick her yet.
But when he turned the corner to the 1800 block, he took a reef hold of Junior’s hand and broke into a sudden, anxious canter. The street was black with people.
Those who could get close enough were milling around the house, flowing across the lawn and hanging on the little front porch. Some were trying to peer through the curtained windows, and a number were pounding hysterically on the door. One man was on the roof, evidently debating the practicability of crawling down the chimney. Over the crowd there rose a steady mutter, like the voice of the gathering Cree in an early western talkie.
Bogert thought first of fire and then of murder. He plunged through the outskirts of the crowd, but could force his way no farther than its middle. He and Junior found themselves wedged between a fat lady in a grey coat and a .sallow little man whose lip was curled in a knowing leer.
“What’s going on?” Bogert asked apprehensively.
“He won’t come out,” the fat lady wheezed irascibly. “He won’t come out, the snake.” Continued on page 42
Continued from page 40
“Aw, why don’t you go home, lady,” the sallow man grunted.
“Go home yourself,” the fat lady wheezed. “I’ve got $600 right here in my stocking, and until 1 see that car sold for $600, I’m staying right here.”
The sallow man winked at Bogert and leaned across to whisper in his ear. “Some of these jerks actually think it’s on the legit,” he hissed. “Me, I’ve got a thousand simoleons right here that says I get the jalopy. And what’s more I know where I can sell it for $1,400 tomorrow.”
“Uh?” Bogert said stupidly.
“Sure,” the sallow man said. “It’s a come-on. With cars as short as they are it can’t he anything else. I can’t figure what the guy’s angle is, hut there’s always an angle. And I’ll get the car, because I know a few angles myself. Suppose I put him next to a dozen pair of nylons. Why shouldn’t he put me next to the Stoltz?”
“He better show himself soon, the snake,” the fat lady wheezed ominously. “Getting honest people all the way out here from the other end of town with their husband bellyaching blue murder about waiting for dinner.”
Somehow Bogert labored through to the doorstep, and turned to face the crowd.
“Ladies and gentlemen — ” he shouted. The crowd made a halfderisive, half-good-natured effort to shout him down.
“Ladies and gentlemen!” Bogert shouted again. “1 am the man who lives at this address. There has been some mistake.”
The Lord’s mercy got him and Junior into the house somehow, and the cupidity of the 20 or 30 prospective buyers who followed them in helped hold the bulk of the crowd at bay.
While Bogert sat on the chesterfield, murmuring over and over again, “But I haven’t got a car,” these nimble consumers divided their time between making him extravagant offers for the car he didn’t have and piling furniture against the door so that their rivals outside might be deterred from getting in and making him still more extravagant offers.
Bogert Junior entered into these dramatic proceedings with zest. He pressed a willing but inadequate shoulder against the trembling panelling of the front door. “Methinks we’ve had it,” he panted as the door gave a great heave.
Abruptly the door’s seismic contortions subsided, and through it came a muffled exhortation that, from where Bogert Senior sat, was beginning to sound positively hackneyed:
“Open in the name of the law!”
’Tis a ruse!” Bogert Junior whispered .
“No,” Bogert Senior said wearily, “it’s Constable McIntosh. He comes nearly every night. He must have been shifted to days this week. Let him in.”
CONSTABLE McINTOSH was followed by a lean, alert young man in tortoise-shell spectacles. The lean, alert young man was followed by Miss Tillie Molson.
Bogert nodded coolly to Constable McIntosh, who nodded a trace more coolly in return. Bogert addressed Miss Molson. “Madam,” he said, “if you have come to gloat, I wish you well.” Tillie looked far from gloating. Junior would have described her mien as sore distraught. Bogert Senior made an alarmed inner prophecy that she would soon be weeping.
The alert young man in the tortoiseshell spectacles threw Bogert an alert, lean look.
“I am an investigator from the Wartime Prices Board,” he said.
“Anything you say may be used against you,” Constable McIntosh said.
“Leave this to me,” the alert young man said. “The Prices Board would like to know how it happens that an expensive car is advertised for sale from this address at half its legal price. The Prices Board would like to know how it happens that this young woman inserted and paid for the advertisement. The Prices Board would like to know why there’s no car for sale at all.”
“What’s the dodge?” Constable McIntosh barked.
Tillie Molson was now making plaintive passes at her moist but otherwise agreeable face with a small moist handkerchief.
“Please,” she said in a small abject voice, “can’t we go into this tomorrow?”
The man from the Prices Board said primly: “You are free to leave at any time. As I told you before, this is still unofficial. But I must warn you that if we don’t get this thing cleared up by tonight, there may be a long and unpleasant investigation.”
Tillie Molson said unhappily: “My mother’s plane leaves in an hour. She’ll worry for days if I’m not there to see her off.”
“Suit yourself, lady,” Constable McIntosh said.
Bogert Nivens walked across the room to the window and stood so that the later afternoon sunlight fell across his profile and accentuated its lines of tired, suffering nobility.
“I accept full responsibility,” Bogert said. “This young lady is not culpable in any way.” Tillie Molson gasped.
“Then how did she get mixed up in it?” the man from the Prices Board asked.
Bogert was ready for that one. “She does some home secretarial work for me,” he said. “She put that ad in the paper on my instructions.”
The man from the Prices Board frowned judicially. “Very well,” he said at length, “I accept that. Please come down to our head office tomorrow, Mr. Nivens. We will expect Miss Molson to remain in town, but it probably won’t be necessary to trouble her.”
“And don’t you try to skip town either,” Constable McIntosh said, fixing Bogert with a menacing glare.
Constable McIntosh opened the door. “Everybody clear out!” he ordered the embryo automobile buyers who had gained admission to the house. “Go home!” he ordered the besieging army outside. The constable and the lean young man from the Prices Board walked away together.
Bogert remained at the window, distant and disdainful.
“Thank you,” Tillie Molson said timidly.
Bogert answered haughtily. “Madam,” he said, “I believe that between two intellects as widely diverse as ours serious communication is impossible.
I will only say that your irresponsible behavior comes as a profound shock to an imagination as limited as mine.”
Tillie disregarded the rebuke. “How will you ever explain to them?” she asked contritely.
“Child’s play, madam,” Bogert said loftily. “Since I have become your tenant, I might remind you that explaining the inexplicable to the authorities has become my largest occupation.”
“I have been very silly,” Tillie said.
“Enough, madam, enough,” Bogert said. “Let us consider our dealings at an end. I am prepared to leave at once. As a matter of fact”—even in defeat a good man’s fighting instinct Continued on page 45
Continued from page 42 doesn’t just curl up and disappear—“as a matter of fact it’s not much of a house anyway. The plaster is starting to fall in the basement. The cold water tap in the kitchen has a perpetual leak.”
“It’s a wonderful house,” Tillie Molson said, showing the first trace of spirit since her arrival.
“Enough, madam, enough,” Bogert said. “We leave tomorrow.”
“Who said anything about leaving?” Tillie Molson asked.
Bogert didn’t hear. “I trust the late afternoon will be early enough to suit your convenience?” he said.
“Who said anything about leaving?” Tillie Molson repeated.
“What?” Bogert said. “What?” The expression seemed to have a certain narcotic fascination for him. “What?” he said again. “What?”
“I have a lease, you know,” Tillie Molson said firmly.
“You mean—you mean—” Bogert’s mind had developed a pronounced affinity for ruts. “You mean you don’t want us to leave?”
“I never did,” Tillie Molson said matter-of-factly.
“That first day, I came to tell your sister she could stay as long as she liked. Mother really needed a place to live, you see. But since she’s going to California—”
“Then what, madam,” Bogert demanded, with some asperity but more bewilderment, “has all the shooting been about?”
“You didn’t give me a chance to tell you,” Tillie Molson said. “Last month, when I was sending those lawyers and people around to argue with your sister, it happened that my mother was very ill. She and I were living in one room, and not a very nice room, either. And then when I came to tell your sister that mother was well enough to go south and everything would be all right, your sister wasn’t even living here any more.”
“So?” Bogert said, a little less austerely.
“So my sole introduction to my new tenants was through the libels against me that you had pumped into that innocent little boy. And then you came in and insulted me personally. You defied me. You challenged me. How could I do anything but what I did do?”
Unaccountably, Tillie Molson giggled. Unaccountably, Bogert H. Nivens grinned.
“What a bomb-aimer you’d have made!” he breathed, gazing at Tillie with new and wholly uncritical appreciation. “By the way,” he asked, “as a matter of interest, and not wishing to pry, are you by any chance lefthanded?”
“Strangely enough, I am.”
“That explains everything,” Bogert said.
“Then you’ll stay?” Tillie Molson said hopefully. “I hate to think of that nice little boy—”
“What about the plaster in the basement and the leaky tap?” Bogert asked sternly. When a man starts getting back his dignity he wants it all or none.
“I’ll have them fixed right away,” Tillie promised meekly.
Bogert settled back in an easy chair and lighted a cigarette. Through the third smugly lovely smoke ring he saw a wide-eyed Bogert Junior for the first time in many minutes.
“Why aren’t you out playing on a fine day like this?” Bogert Senior demanded abruptly. “Why don’t you go and buy yourself an ice-cream cone? Here’s a nickel.”
Bogert Junior was no sap. He knew when action was brewing. He was back before the cone was half-eaten. Nobody noticed him for a while. Bogert Junior stood in the middle of the floor, surveying the purlieus of Sherwood Forest, and then he cleared his throat and said:
“How now, good Robin?”
“Good, good!” his father’s dreamy voice answered. “Wonderful. I mean, how now, Little John?”