Childe, looking at Rodder's photograph, grinned widely.
Heepish said, "What's so funny? I could stand a little laugh inthese tryingtimes."
"Nothing, really." "Don't you like Rodder?" Heepish's voice was controlled, but it contained a hint of a
well-oiled mousetrap aching to snap shut.
Childe said, "I liked his Shadow Land series. And I liked hisunderlyingthemes, aside from the spooky element. You know, the little manfighting bravelyagainst conformity, authoritarianism, vast forces of corruption, andso on, thelone individual, the only honest man in the word--I liked thosethings. Andevery time I read an article in the newspapers about Rodder, he'salwaysdescribed as honest, as a man of integrity. Which is really ironic."
Childe stopped and then, not wishing to continue but impelled to, said, "ButI know a guy..."
He stopped. Why tell Heepish that the guy was Jeremiah?
"This guy was at a party which consisted mainly of science- fiction people. He was standing within earshot of a group of authors. One was thegreat fantasywriter, Breyleigh Bredburger. You know of him, of course?"
Heepish nodded and said, "After Rodder, Monk Lewis, and Bloch, myfavorite."
Childe said, "Another author, I forget his name, was complainingthat Rodder had stolen one of his magazine stories for his series. Just liftedit, changedthe title and few things, credited it to somebody with an outlandishGreek name, and had, so far, refused to correspond with the author about thealleged theft. Bredburger said that was nothing. Rodder had stolen three of hisstories, givingcredit to himself, Rodder, as author. Bredburger cornered Roddertwice and forced him to admit the theft and to pay him. Rodder's excuse wasthat he'd signed to write two-thirds of the series himself and he wasn't up toit, so, indesperation, he'd lifted Bredburger's stories. He didn't say anythingabout plagiarizing from other people, of course. Bredburger said he'd beenpromisedpayment for the third stolen story but so far hadn't gotten it andwouldn't unless he vigorously pursued Rodder or went through the courts.
"A third author then said that the first would have to stand in line behind about twenty if he wanted to sue or to take it out of Rodder's hide.
"That's your D. Nimming Rodder. Your great champion of the littleman, ofthe nonconformist, of the honest man."
Childe stopped. He was surprised that he had run on so. He didnot want to quarrel. After all, he was to be indebted to this man, if this grandtour ever ended. On the other hand, he was itchy with anger. He had seen toomany corruptmen highly honored by the world, which either did not know the truthor ignoredit. Also, the irritation caused by the smog, the repressed panicarising fromfear of what the smog might become, Colben's death, the frustratingscene with Sybil, and Heepish's attitude, undefinedly prickly, combined to wearaway theskin and fat over his nerves.
Heepish's gray eyes seemed to retreat, as if they were afraidthey mightcombust if they got too close to the light and air. His neckquivered. Hismoustache drew down; invisible weights had been tied to each end. Hisnostrils flared like bellows. His pale skin had become red. His handsclenched.
Childe waited while the silence hardened like bird lime. If Heepish gotnasty, he would get just as nasty, even though he would lose accessto the literature he needed. Childe had been told by Jeremiah that Heepish had gottenthe idea for his collection from observing a man by the name ofForrest J Ackerman, who had probably the greatest private collection ofscience-fiction and fantasy in the world. In fact, Heepish had been called the poorman's Ackerman, though not to his face. However, he was far from poor, hehad much money--from what source nobody knew--and his collection would somedaybe the world's greatest, private or public.
But at this moment he was very vulnerable, and Childe was willingto thrust through the crack in the armor.
"Well!" Heepish said.
He cocked his head and smiled thinly. The moustache, however, wasstill swelled like an elephant seal in mating season, and his fingers weremaking asteeple, then separating to form the throat-holding attitude.
"Well!" he said again. His voice was as hard, but there was alsoa whine in it, like a distant mosquito.
"Well!" Childe said, aware that he would never know what Heepishwas goingto say and not caring. "I'd like to see the newspaper files, ifpossible."
"Oh? Oh, yes! They're upstairs. This way, please."
They left the garage, but Heepish put the photograph of Rodderunder his arm before following him out. Childe had wondered what it was doing outin the garage, anyway, but on re-entering the house, he saw that there weremany morephotographs and paintings and pencil sketches and even framednewspaper andmagazine clippings containing Rodder's portrait--than he had thought. Heepishhad had one too many and stored that one in the garage. But now, asif to show Childe his place, to put him down in some obscure manner, Heepish wasalso bringing this photograph into the house.
Childe grinned at this as he waited for Heepish to lead himthrough thekitchen and hall-room and turn right to go up the narrow stairs. Thewalls were hung with many pictures and paintings of Frankenstein's monster andDracula and an original by Hannes Bok and another by Virgil Finlay, all leaningat slightlydifferent angles like headstones in an old neglected graveyard.
They went down a short hallway and into a room with the wallscovered with paintings and photographs and posters and movie ad stills. There werea number of curious wooden frames, sawhorses with castles on their backs, which held a series of illustrations and photos and newspaper clippings on woodenframes. These could be turned on a central shaft, like pages of a book.
Childe looked through all of them and, at any other time, wouldhave been delighted and would have lingered over various nostalgic items.
Heepish, as if the demands on him were really getting to be toomuch, sighedwhen Childe asked to see the scrapbooks. He went into an enormouscloset the walls of which were lined with bookshelves stuffed with largescrapbooks, manyof them dusty and smelling of decay.
"I really must do something about these before it's too late," Heepish said. "I have some very valuable--some invaluable and unreplaceable-material here."
He was still carrying Rodder's photo under one arm.
It was Childe's turn to sigh as he looked at the growing hill ofstuff to peruse. But he sat down in a chair, placed his right ankle over hisleft thigh, and began to turn the stiff and often yellowed and brittle pages ofthe scrapbooks. After a while, Heepish said that he would have to excusehimself. If Childe wanted anything, he should just holler. Childe looked up andsmiled briefly and said that he did not want to be any more bother than hehad to be. Heepish was gone then, but left an almost visible ectoplasm ofdisdain and hurt feelings behind him.
The scrapbooks were titled with various subjects: MOVIE VAMPIRES, GERMAN AND SCANDINAVIAN, 1919-1939; WEREWOLVES, AEMRICAN, 1865-1900; WITCHES, PENNSYLVANIAN, 1880-1965; GOLEM, EXTRA-FORTEANA, 1929-1960; SOUTHERNCALIFORNIA VAMPIRE FOLKLORE AND GHOST STORIES, 1910-1967; and so on.
Childe had gone through thirty-two such titles before he came tothe last one. They had all been interesting but not very fruitful, and he didnot know that the one which was in his hands was relevant. But he felt his heart quickenand his back became less stiff. It could not be called a clue, but itat least was something to investigate.
An article from the Los Angeles Times, dated May 1, 1958, described a number of reputedly "haunted" houses in the Los Angeles area. Several longparagraphswere devoted to a house in Beverly Hills which not only had a ghost, it had a "vampire."
There was a photograph of the Trolling House taken from the air. Accordingto the article, no one could get close enough to it on the ground touse a camera effectively. The house was set on a low hill in the middle ofa large--for Southern California--walled estate. The grounds were wellwooded so that the house could not be seen from anywhere outside the walls. Thenewspapercameramen had been unable to get photos of it in 1948, when the ownerof Trolling House had become temporarily famous, and the newsmen had nobetter luck in 1958, when this article, recapitulating the events of ten yearsbefore, hadbeen published. There was, however, a picture of a pencil sketch madeof the "vampire," Baron Igescu, by an artist who had depended upon hismemory afterseeing the baron at a charity ball. No photographs of the baron wereknown to be in existence. Very few people had seen the baron, although he hadmade several appearances at charity balls and once at a Beverly Hills taxpayersprotestmeeting.
Trolling House was named after the uncle of the present owner. The uncle, also an Igescu, had traveled from Rumania to England in 1887, stayedthere one year, and then moved on to America in 1889. Upon becoming a citizenof the United States of America, Igescu had changed his name to Trolling. Noone knew why. The mansion was on woodland surrounded on all sides by a highbrick wall topped with iron spikes between which barbed wire was strung. Builtin very lateVictorian style in 1900 in what was then out-of-the-way agriculturalland, itwas a huge rambling structure. The nucleus was a part of the originalhouse. This was, naturally, a Spanish-style mansion which had been built bythe eccentric (some said, mad) Don Pedro del Osorojo in the wilderness ofwhat was to become, a century later, Beverly Hills. Del Osorojo was supposedto have been a relative of the de Villa family, which owned this area, but thatwas not authenticated. Actually little was known of del Osorojo except thathe was a recluse with an unknown source of wealth. His wife came from Spain(this waswhen California was under Spanish rule) and was supposed to have beena Castilian noble.
The present owner, Igescu, was involuntarily publicized in 1938when he was brought dead-on-arrival into the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital after acar collision at Hollywood and La Brea. At twilight of the following day, the countycoroner was to perform an inquest. Igescu had no perceptible woundsor injuries.
At the first touch of the knife, Igescu sat up on the dissectionslab.
This story was picked up by newspapers throughout the Statesbecause a reporter jestingly pointed out that Igescu had (1) never been seen inthe daytime, (2) was of Transylvanian origin, (3) came from anaristocratic familywhich had lived for centuries in a castle (now abandoned) on top of ahigh steephill in a remote rural area, (4) had shipped his uncle's body back tothe old country to be buried in the family tomb, but the coffin haddisappeared enroute, and (5) was living in a house already well known because ofthe ghost ofDolores del Osorojo.
Dolores was supposedly the spirit of Don Pedro's daughter. Shehad died of grief, or killed herself because of grief. Her lover, or suitor, wasa Norwegiansea-captain who had seen Dolores at a governor's ball during one ofher rare appearances in town. He seemed to have lost his sanity over her. Heneglectedhis ship and its business, and his men deserted or were thrown intothe local jail for drunkenness and vagrancy.
Lars Ulf Larsson, the captain, barred by the old don from seeingDolores, managed to sneak into the house and woo her so successfully that shepromised torun off with him within a week. But the night of the elopement came, and Larsson did not show up. He was never seen again; a legend had it that DonPedro had killed him and buried his body on the estate. Another said that thebody hadbeen thrown into the sea.
Dolores had gone into mourning and died several weeks later. Herfather went hunting into the hills several weeks after she was buried and failedto return. Search parties could not find him; it was said that the Devil hadtaken him.
Later occupants of the house reported that they sometimes sawDolores in the house or out on the lawn. She was always dressed in a black formalgown of the1810's and had black hair, a pale skin, and very red lips. Herappearances werenot frequent, but they were nerve wracking enough to cause a longline of tenants and owners to move out. The old mansion had fallen into ruins, exceptfor two rooms, when Uncle Igescu bought the property and built hishouse around the still-standing part.
Despite the publicity about the present Igescu, not much wasreally knownabout him. He had inherited a chain of grocery stores and an exportbusiness from his uncle. He, or his managers, had built the stores into alarge chain ofsupermarkets in the Southwest and had expanded the export business.
Childe found the ghost interesting. Whether or not she had beenseen recently was not known, because Igescu had never said anything abouther. Her last recorded appearance was in 1878, when the Reddes had moved out.
Igescu's sketch in the newspaper showed a long lean face with ahighforehead and high cheekbones and large eyes and thick eyebrows. Hehad a thick down drooping Slovak coal miner's type of moustache.
Heepish returned, and Childe, holding the sketch so he could see it, said, "This man certainly doesn't look Draculaish does he? More like the grocery store man, which he is, right?"
Heepish poked his head forward and squinted his eyes. He smiledslightly. "Certainly, he doesn't look like Bela Lugosi. But the Dracula of thebook, BramStoker's, had just such a moustache. Or one like it, anyway. I triedto get intouch with Igescu several times, you know, but I couldn't get throughhis secretary. She was nice but very firm. The Baron did not want to bedisturbed with any such nonsense."
Heepish's tone and weak hollow chuckle said that, if there wereanynonsense, it was on the Baron's part.
"You have his phone number?" "Yes, but it took me a lot of trouble to get it. It's unlisted." "You don't owe him anything," Childe said. "I'd like to have it.
If I find anything you might be interested in, I'll tell you. How's that? Ifeel I owe yousomething, for your time and fine cooperation. Perhaps, I might beable to digup something for your collection."
"Well, you can have the number," Heepish said, warming up. "Butit's probably been changed."
He conducted Childe downstairs and, while Childe waited under ashelf which held the heads of Frankenstein's monster, The Naked Brain, and a hugeblack long-nailed warty rubbery hand of some nameless creature from some(deservedly) forgotten movie, Heepish plunged into the rear of the house down adim corridor with plastic cobwebs and spiderwebs between ceiling and wall. Hedived out of the shadows and webs with a little black book in his hand. Childe wrote down the number and address in his own little black book and asked permissionto try thenumber. He dialed and got what he expected, nothing. The lines werestill tied up. He tried the LAPD number. He tried his own phone. More nothing.
Just for stubbornness, he tried Igescu's number again. And thistime, as ifthe fates had decided that he should be favored, or by one of thosecoincidences too implausible to be believed in a novel but sometimes happening in"real" life, the connection went through. A woman's voice said, "Hello? MyGod, thephone works! What happened?"
"May I speak to Baron Igescu?" Childe said. "Who?" "Isn't this Baron Igescu's residence?" "No! Who is this speaking?" "Herald Wellston," Childe said, giving the name he had decided to
use. "MayI ask who is speaking?" "Go away! Or I'll call the police!" the woman screamed, and she hung up.
"I don't think that was Igescu's secretary," Childe said inanswer to Heepish's quizzical expression. "Somebody else has their number now."
Not believing that it would work but willing to try, he dialedinformation. The call went right through, and he succeeded almost immediately ingettingtransferred to his contact. She did not have to worry about asupervisorlistening in; she was the supervisor.
"What happened, Linda? All of a sudden, the lines're wide open."
"I don't know, one of those unexplainable lulls, the eye of thestorm, maybe. But it won't last, you can bet your most precious possessionon that, Herald. You better hurry."
He told her what he wanted, and she got Igescu's unlisted numberfor him within a few seconds.
"I'll drop off the usual to you in the mail before evening. Thanks, Linda, you beautiful beautiful."
"I may not be here to get it if this smog keeps up," she said. "Or the mailman may have skipped town with everyone and his brother."
He hung up the telephone. Heepish, who had stepped out of theroom but not out of hearing range, raised his eyebrows. Childe did not feel thathe had to justify himself, but, since he was using Heepish's phone, he did owehim some explanation.
"The forces of good must use corruption to fight corruption," hesaid. "I occasionally have to find a number, and I send a ten to my informant, or used to; now it's a twenty, what with inflation. In this case, I suspectI've wasted my money."
Heepish harrumphed. Childe got out quickly; he felt as if hecould no longerstand this shadowy, musky place with its monsters frozen in variousattitudes of attack and their horrified paralyzed victims. Nor could he endure thecustodian of the museum any longer.
Yet, when he stood at the door to say good-bye and to thank hishost, hefelt ashamed. Certainly, the man's hobby--passion, rather--washarmless enoughand even entertaining--even emotionally purgative--for millions ofchildren and adults who had never quite ceased being children. Though dedicated toarchetypalhorror and its Hollywood sophisticated developments, the house haddefeated itself, hence, had a therapeutic value. Where there is a surfeit ofhorrors, horror becomes ho-hum.
And this man had helped him to the best of his ability.
He thanked Heepish and shook his hand, and perhaps Heepish feltthe changein his guest, because he smiled broadly and radiated warmth and asked
Childe to come back--any time.
The door swung shut with the Inner-Sanctum creakings, but it didnot propelChilde and Jeremiah into the acid-droplet mist. A breeze ruffledthem, andsunshine was bright, and the sky was blue.
Childe had not known until then how depressed and miserable hehad been. Now, he blinked eyes that did not burn or weep and sucked in theprecious cleanair. He chortled and did a little jig arm in arm with Jeremiah. Thewalk back to his apartment was the most delightful walk in his life. Its delightexceeded even that of his first walk with Sybil when he was courting her. Theyards andsidewalks held a surprising number of people, all enjoying the airand sun. Apparently, fewer than he--and the radio and TV experts--had thoughthad fled the area.
There were, however, few cars on the streets. Wilshire Boulevardheld onlyone auto between La Cienega and Robertson, and when they crossedBurton Way onWillaman, they could see no cars.
However, there were great green-gray clouds piled against themountains. Pasadena and Glendale and other inland cities were still in the fist of the smog.
By the time he had said good-bye to Jeremiah, who turned offtoward Mt. Sinai Hospital, the wind had slid to a halt, and the air was as stillas a dead jellyfish again. There was a peculiar glow on the western horizon; ahush descended as if a finger had been placed against the lips of theworld.
He still felt happy as he went into the apartment building. Thephone lineswere busy, but he stuck it out, and, within three hundred seconds byhis wristwatch, the phone rang. The voice that answered was female, low, and lovely.
Magda Holyani was Mr. Igescu's secretary; she stressed the"Mister."
No, Mr. Igescu could not talk to him. Mr. Igescu never talked toanybodywithout an appointment. No, he would not grant an interview to Mr. Herold Wellston, no matter how far Mr. Wellston had traveled for it nor howimportantthe magazine Mr. Wellston represented. Mr. Igescu never gaveinterviews, and ifMr. Wellston was thinking of that silly vampire and ghost story inthe Times, hehad better forget it--as far as talking to Mr. Igescu about it. Orabout anything.
And how had Mr. Wellston gotten this unlisted number? Childe did not answer the last. He asked that his request beforwarded to her employer. She said that he would be informed of it as soon aspossible. Childe gave her his number--he said he was staying with a friend--andtold her that if Igescu should change his mind, he should call him at thatnumber. He thanked her and hung up. Throughout the conversation, neither hadsaid a word about the smog.
Childe decided to do some thinking, and, while he was doing that, he had better attend to some immediate matters--such as his survival. He drove to the supermarket and found that it had just been reopened. Apparently, themanagerwas staying on the premises, and several of the checkout women andthe liquorstore clerk lived nearby. Cars were beginning to fill the parkinglot, andpeople on foot were numerous. Childe was glad that he had thought ofthis, because the shelves were beginning to look bare. He stocked up oncanned goodsand powdered milk and purchased a five-gallon bottle of distilledwater.
On the way back, he heard six sirens and saw two ambulances. Hospitals werenot about to complain of lack of business.
By the time he had put away the groceries, he had made up hismind. He would drive out and scout around the Igescu estate. He had no rationalcause to do so. There was not the thinnest of threads to connect Igescu with Colben. Nevertheless, he meant to investigate. He had nowhere else to go andnothing todo. He could spend the rest of the day with this doubtlessunrewarding lead, andtomorrow, if the city began to return to normal, he would start on adefinite and profitable case, if one showed up. And one should. There werebound to be many missing persons, gone somewhere with the smog.