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- Broadcast From Limbo
- Sweet and Deadly
- Art Appreciation
- A Sap Takes the Rap
Broadcast From Limbo
I stood on the top deck of a small Coast Guard cutter watching the jagged line of lower Manhattan rapidly falling astern. The early afternoon of a Spring day threw queer shadows across the towering skyscrapers, and there was just enough left of Winter’s dying breath to churn the bay into white caps of froth and cause my ears to snuggle appreciatively in the turned-up collar of my camel’s hair coat.
I flipped my cigarette into the water and walked toward the bow where Harvey had set down my recording equipment. The newspaper boys were huddled together exchanging old stories for new and casting condescending glances at the press photographers loaded down with their cameras and paraphernalia.
The uniformed Customs men were down below going over their papers and getting them in order, so I guess I was the only one in the bunch on the cutter who kept a watchful eye out for the trim shape of the giant liner we were to meet with me it was always a thrill to spot one of the luxury trade ships come into sight off the bow, though I’d been doing the same thing for over six months.
I looked around for my assistant but as usual Harvey was somewhere else. Although he hadn’t been with me very long, he had the knack of getting interviews for me. I didn’t have a chance to lay hands on him just then because a guy strolled over to where I was standing.
Pointing to my stuff on the deck, he said: “That a wire recorder you have?”
“Uh-uh,” I replied. “Tape. I’ll take it over wire anytime. It’s easier to work with.”
He was a well-built man with square shoulders and a round pleasant face. His prominent features were chisel sharp and his gray eyes were two points of searching light.
“My name is Barkley,” he said as he stuck out his hand. “Jeff Barkley.”
“Mine is Hugh Crandall.”
“Oh,” he cut in, his face beaming, “the radio interviewer, huh?”
I nodded and let him talk.
“Say, I’ve heard your program over WZYH.”
I smiled easily. “A fan maybe?”
“Yeah, yeah. Say that’s a great show you’ve got, Hugh.”
“You get all the celebrities, don’t you?”
“That’s my job,” I told him. “That’s why the station pays me and that’s why guys like you listen in, I guess.”
He grinned but didn’t say anything. I felt a little bored but what the hell, a guy in my business never lets a chance to blow his horn get by.
“I meet all the big ships,” I went on. “Coming and going — it doesn’t make any difference; if there’s a celeb aboard I shove a mike in his face and let nature take its course. What do you do?”
“Oh, my game is rather prosaic,” he said “I’m with the National Art Museum.”
“Yeah? So what’s prosaic about that?”
“I have my moments. I’m meeting an old guy with a valuable painting now. Say,” he said as if he just got a thought, “maybe you’d like to do an interview with him. I can arrange it.”
He took a look at my blank face and went on, “He found this painting in an abandoned cave and he — “
He never finished the sentence because just then somebody yelled, “There she is!”
* * * * *
Everybody turned and looked at the Queen Elizabeth off the starboard bow. When I glanced around again the guy from the art museum was gone, his broad back making like a dissatisfied sponsor as he strode briskly astern.
I watched as we drew close to the big ship and somehow I couldn’t suppress a vague, uneasy feeling.
By the time Harvey joined me we were bobbing up and down alongside the Queen Elizabeth. Busy deck-hands fastened a portable runway between our little cork and the towering Queen of the Seas and the trek to her warm interior began.
Harvey picked up the heavy power pack we used for our source of electricity and I grabbed the recorder.
“Wow,” he said, “look at that mob!”
High above me the black and white side of the huge ship towered like a glistening wall with a thousand eyes. I could see the countless gleaming portholes jammed with curious, grinning faces and the decks lined with people busy being just people, their hands making happy gestures in the air as if each one was all we would notice.
“Some mob, huh, Hugh?” said Harvey again, and he started up the gangway.
I should have been bored stiff but I couldn’t help it — I still got a kick out of it. We set up on the verandah deck with photographers and reporters all around us, and Harvey went out and gathered in the celebs for my program.
It was pretty easy because, as I said, we did it on tape and then later back at the studio we edited and cut out what we didn’t want and put it on the air the following day. We usually had two hours before the ship docked and started discharging passengers, so we went right to work and in an hour and a half we had cut nearly all the interviews I could use.
“Hey, Harvey,” I yelled, “get me one more.”
He came over with a copy of the passenger list and pointed to a name I didn’t know.
“I’ve tried to get this baby, Hugh,” he croaked, “but he wants us to go down to his cabin; he won’t come up.”
“To hell with him,” I started to say, then read the name out loud. “Professor Szabo. Who’s that? What’s good about him?”
Harvey’s white, unexpressive face registered surprise.
“What kind of an intellectual are you? That’s the old guy who discovered the painting in an abandoned cave somewhere in the Balkans.”
“Oh,” I said and I suddenly remembered the museum fellow on the cutter.
“Good interview,” I clipped. “Get him.”
Harvey looked a little anxious.
“I just told you, Hugh; I called him on the ship’s phone and he says he won’t come up. If you want an interview, you’ll have to — “
“Have to go down to his cabin,” I finished gruffly. “Okay, let’s go. Might be worth it. Different, huh?”
Harvey looked relieved and I was suddenly glad that this was the last interview for the day. We lugged our equipment down to Cabin B-7 and rapped on the door. It opened inward, and my eyes bulged outward like the convex ends of somebody’s binoculars.
In one glance I knew that she was just about the most gorgeous gal I’d ever seen — and in my business, brother, I’ve seen!
“Ah,” she breathed out of luscious red lips, “you za rad-io man, yes?”
Her lovely, low-pitched voice had the soft Stradavarian tone of a muted G string and her Balkan accent played upon it with utter charm.
“Yes,” I muttered a little unsteadily, “I’m the radio man,” and so we went inside.
Her long blonde hair was like golden blossoms in the sun. Her hand was soft and warm in my palm.
“It is my grandfather you want, yes?” I nodded and site said, “I am Salizar Szabo. It is, I theenk, Sally you call it, yes?”
Her smile lit up the cabin.
“Okay, Sally,” I grinned. “I’m Hugh Crandall.”
And I introduced my assistant who was already busy setting up our equipment.
* * * * *
The old professor came forward with extended hand, and said in a thick accent that he was flattered by the idea of a radio interview in “this so great, so wonderful country.”
He told me that he had been at the university for years but had fallen out of favor with the state heads when the new government came to power in his country.
“Tell me about the painting, Professor Szabo,” I asked. “How did you find it? How much is it worth? You know — er — maybe some stories about its history?”
He wasn’t looking at me but at Harvey busy connecting the portable recorder, and there was a perplexed expression on the old man’s face.
“You see,” I hastened to explain, “we talk about the interview first and in that way we’ll make it interesting when we are ready to record it.”
“Ah yes,” he said, “I see.”
Sally bent forward and touched the old gent lightly on the arm.
“I will be back later, Grandpapa.
“She smiled and walked from the cabin, leaving me with a sudden uncontrollable feeling of loneliness.
I turned to the professor.
“Perhaps we can see the painting, sir? You know, describe it for the radio audience.”
“But, of course,” he bowed. “It is a pleasure, no?”
He extracted a metal tube about twelve inches long from a suitcase at the foot of the bed and held it fondly between his palms, his eyes glittering with a light that was more than just proud ownership and appreciation of art. He slipped the rolledup canvas into his hand and spread it out for me to see.
Now I might just as well tell you right now that I’m no connoisseur of art. Art with me is something else, if you follow my line of thought, and what the old guy held before me didn’t look at all like that. What he was showing me looked more like the stained glass window in the corner church.
“W-what does it depict, Professor?”
He started to answer but his open mouth only made queer unintelligible sounds, his filmy old eyes fixed on my face as if I were the devil himself.
“What’s the matter, Professor? What is it?”
He didn’t seem to hear. Something behind me made a soft metallic sound like a door opening and I heard Harvey’s hoarse voice whisper: “Look out!”
I started to whirl around but before I was anywhere near completing the turn, something incredibly hard thudded into my head just below my right ear. As I went down on my stomach I saw Professor Szabo’s green eyes framed in a white, bewildered face of fear.
And that was the last thing I saw because the pitch blackness of cold midnight suddenly came out of nowhere and swirled around me. The floor must have been hard underneath my body, but I didn’t feel it. I was covered with the soft, enveloping blanket of complete unconsciousness … .
I came to with my nose pressing into the maroon-colored carpet and my ears filled with the nerve-wracking noise of a billion electric trip-hammers going full blast. I pulled myself wearily to my knees. As I moved, an agonizing pain shot through my head, and my exploring fingers told me by the size of the lump behind my ear that I was lucky I didn’t have a fractured skull.
I looked up. The old professor was just like I’d last seen him, except that he was sitting in the chair instead of standing and the look of fear in his face was gone. In its place was the blank expression I’d seen many times on the faces of some of my buddies on Omaha Beach after a half dozen rounds of red-hot Nazi lead had poured into their bellies.
Professor Szabo’s staring old eyes were watching me with a steady gaze. Only he couldn’t see me — not with that little round hole in the middle of his white forehead!
The story continues … download it today!
- Broadcast From Limbo
- Sweet and Deadly
- Art Appreciation
- A Sap Takes the Rap