Sunday, April 20, 2014

it isn't only crocodiles that cry, part 5: the old army game

original story by horace p sternwall

originally appeared in the may-june 1945 through the jan-feb 1946 issues of throat grabbing tales

adapted for the 21st-century by chuck leary and roger "peg leg" wilson

illustrated by konrad kraus and eddie el greco

part five of thirteen

to begin at the beginning, click here

for previous episode, click here

it was the year 30,673.

the human race was divided into twelve categories.




serial killers



private detectives

lost girls

homicide detectives

homicide victims

trained deadly assassins

and tired old ex-cops who spent their days tracking cold cases.

sometimes the lines got blurred.

al avery was a tired old ex-cop working the coldest cases of all.

he was counting the nicks on the rim of his sixth styrofoam cup of cold coffee at burger king - the big burger king on the boulevard over by the park - when he looked up and saw a familiar face.

johnny raven. sitting by himself at a table beside the window and near the corner but not actually in the corner.

that miserable little punk johnny raven.

he had that guilty look about him.

in a world of guilty people johnny stood out with his guilty look like an alligator at a cat show.

al took his cup of coffee and went over and sat at johnny's table.

johnny didn't look surprised to see al. and he didn't look any more guilty than he already had because he couldn't look any more guilty than he already had.

"remember me?" al asked.

"i can't say that i do."

"johnny raven, right?"


al stared at johnny. johnny did not seem at all perturbed.

finally johnny said, " you recognized me , i didn't recognize you. it happens every day, don't it?"

"if you say so," al answered.

they stared into their respective beverages.

after a while al said, "recognize me yet?"

"no, and i'm not trying to."

"but you can't help it, can you, johnny? it's the old army game - the old army game where you hurry up and wait, but the wheel never stops spinning. in out, in out, you play the black and the red comes up.

you play the red and the black comes up. there's a man behind the wheel with no face, but you know who he is - he is your life, waiting for the wheel to stop spinning -"

"or stop talking."

"we never stop talking. it's what we do. talking to ourselves, if nobody wants to listen."

"so talk to yourself, pal, i ain't interested."

"not interested? in where i know you from?"

"no." johnny took his phone out and checked the time.

"going somewhere?" al asked.

"of course i'm going somewhere. what am i going to do, sit here forever?"

"forever's a long time."

"yeah, it is, ain't it?"

suddenly it hit johnny - this character might have been sent by the fernwoods to check up on him.

and that other geezer that braced him in front of doreen's apartment - colonel whatever - they might have sent him too.

but why? for the peanuts they were paying him, why would they go to so much trouble?

he was being paranoid. did he think the whole world was out to get him?

but of course the whole world was out to get him.

always had been.

that's what the world was there for.

why anything? suddenly johnny felt a great weariness - more than his usual day-to-day weariness.

he wished he had just taken care of doreen when he had seen her. it would have been just as easy then as now.

why had he given her a warning?

why did he always have to make things so difficult?

"buzzards circling in a red sky," said al.


"buzzards circling in the red sky. you heard me the first time. red sky over the caravan of the cat-toad-queen on the road to the empire of dust…

primates dancing in the shadow of the abandoned gallows … centurions leaning on their spears … guard, whip that slave!… it's the old army game… stick around johnny, you are not really going anywhere… i'll even buy you another cup of coffee."

"buy me a rodeo chicken sandwich."

"sure. i'll buy you some fries too."

"thank you."

"see how easy that was? you didn't have to kill anybody. you didn't have to conspire against the universe. all you had to do was ask."

"i guess there must be a lesson there."

"there must be."

johnny looked out the window at the boulevard. the day was just starting to wane.

plenty of time to take care of doreen. if he even did.

the sandwich and fries this guy - probably a retired cop, or a guy writing a book - was going to buy him would cost almost half the eight dollars the fernwoods were going to pay him for doreen…

maybe with all the salt and fat and protein from this sandwich and the fries mr fernwood had so generously given him the night before he could get away from the city and make a clean break and start a new life …

but who was he kidding?

it was the old army game… now and forever…

"what did you say your name was?" johnny asked the guy.


"how about that rodeo chicken sandwich, al?"

al gave johnny a long hard look into what would have been the depths of his soul if he had one…

"i bet it's all coming back now, hey?"

"it will come back even faster when i bite into that sandwich…"

part 6