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Table of Contents
These early arrivals came from those cities closest to Fort Duquesne, from places like St. John, Rayburn, Kingston Croix Falls. All within a 60 to 70-mile radius, the teachers — eager beavers with varied reasons for bombing in a night early — most obviously having checked out of their respective schools at 4 p.m. sharp, having made a direct beeline for Convention City, with lustful thoughts.
As if, by arriving late, they might miss some vital, never-to-be-recaptured adventure.
Mostly they came in pairs, shared rooms to keep down expenses, males and females alike. Being of that subdued rabbit-like ilk, the companionship of another kindred soul gave them sense of security, lulled them. And for the women — sense of respectability, of token chaperonage. They came with glowing excited faces, the women with far more clothes than they'd need for a three-day convention; they came with anticipation, with a holiday aura, hanging heavily about them.
They came from as near as ten blocks away, from as far away as 300 miles. From the Fort Duquesne suburb of Crown Point. From the northern-most port city of Westmoreland. They came from Haverhill, from Princeton, from Salina. They came from prosaic sounding towns like Helen, Pringleville, Nobtown. They came from such exotic places as Portage Royale, Princess Ann, Presque Isle, Mad Anthony. They came from North, South, East and West.
They came 11,000 strong.
They came for the annual State Teacher's Convention, the one last professional blast before they sat down for the eight-week grind preceding the Christmas recess. It was a grueling interim, an unappetizing prospect. One that called for a definite kicking-up-of-heels, a gathering of resources, of pleasant (even slightly risque) memories for the long haul ahead, perhaps thoughts of warm thighs and wild abandon.
By 8:00 all the Wednesday night arrivals from a 200-mile radius had arrived.
By 10:00 teachers from as far north as Mount Holston, Cyrus and Bad Creek had checked in.
Already the lobby, the bar and coffee shop of the Bentley Arms was taking on a festive atmosphere.
Tonight was private showing, a preview of corning attractions. They had stolen a march on the more massive contingent of their educational colleagues who would clog all highways leading into Fort Duquesne from 7 a.m. on tomorrow, the uninspired laggards who would squeak in for the beginning of the general session at 9:00.
Such dedication, such diligence certainly shouldn't go unrewarded.
Thus, by 10:00 this Wednesday night — The cavernous, dimly lit cocktail lounge was a shrill babble of voices; the room was wreathed in choking cigarette smoke. The drinkers were lined three deep along the length of the hundred-foot bar.
The teachers. High school. Intermediate. Primary. Kindergarten. All renewing friendships, letting off steam, their eyes darting, men and women alike appraising, speculating, zeroing in on most likely victims, sex a dominating thought.
And here and there, intermixed with the still-shop-talking tribe — The salesmen, the operators, the free agents who were at the Bentley Arms on purpose, who made annual point of being in Fort Duquesne this first weekend in November.
The parasites, the opportunists, the vultures.
Winks were exchanged, smug, secret smiles sent across the room.
Smiles that said this convention was going to be a beaut. A darb. A swinging affair.
Things were shaping up splendidly. Fine, just fine.
* * *
In room 322 of the 1000-room, ten-story hotel, two females were busily unpacking, hanging dresses, shaking folds from skirts and blouses, shoveling lingerie, hose, shoes into dresser drawers, arranging make-up, perfumes, ointments, cosmetics of every kind on dresser tops and vanities.
They were direct opposites, hardly the type one would have expected to share a room, attend a convention together. One an ingenue, glowingly innocent, the other a woman in her mid-thirties, experienced, jaded by lust, afflicted of a singular malaise.
The fact was that they both taught at Fremont High, they were both in the English department of the Bay City school. They had that kinship, that rapport. When talk of convention had arisen early in September Shana hadn't hesitated a moment at Estee's suggestion that they take a room together, take in the doings as a team.
Shana Hanrahan was 23, was in her second year of teaching. She was a lovely brunette, her smile timid, her pixy face charmingly round, her fine hair hanging in artfully disheveled strands about her lovely face, complimenting the darkness of her eyes, the whiteness of her perfect teeth, her peaches-and-cream complexion.
And though she was a petite woman, there was still marked sign of that sexuality that draws men like flies, an eye-catching tightness at the bodice of the smocked dress she wore, a strain of provocative ebullience at hips and buttocks that filled out even the chemise-type gown. Her legs were exciting, thin at the ankle, flaring at the calves, lithe in the thighs, giving her, when she walked, a panther-like grace, a seductive lope and slide.
Yet, despite the seeming chrome-plating of innocence, something mysterious, a dark, awful secret glowed in those eyes at off guard moments. A mystery her friend Estee Courtnay decidedly wanted to fathom.
"Do you want to go down afterward?" Estee asked now, stuffing her suitcase into the closet. "Maybe a nightcap?"
"Tell you later," Shana smiled. "After I've showered. I'm pretty beat. I'm not used to driving all that distance. We pushed pretty hard. Though why, I don't know. Maybe I'll just turn in."
"Anything you say, Shana," Estee said. "It was just a thought. I'm tired too. We should be fresh for tomorrow."
The woman who smiled so stiffly at her roommate, whose eyes reflected sudden longing as she saw Shana unzip her dress, begin to peel it away, was 36, a smallish, smartly tailored specimen. Though as tall as Shana, her body gave illusion of stockiness. The wool suit she wore made her look boxy, slightly masculine. It was a fleeting observation, for Estee was epitome of fashionable, total female, from the top of her exquisitely coif fed head to the tips of her smart, wedge-toed, imported pumps.
Her hair was purposely grizzled, the streaks of white emphasizing her soft, understated beauty. Her mouth was generous, a sensuous tilt to it when she smiled. Her eyes were frank, penetrating, conferred a benign caress when they regarded a favored someone, as they were doing at this moment.
Her body was trim, sexy. This despite the fact that her breasts were small, her hips slightly on the flat side. But she had good legs, and she knew how to keynote her good points.
She was, so far as Shana was concerned, the best friend a newcomer to teaching could ever have.
Perhaps there was more than friendship here. Shana couldn't see it however. For her back was to Estee now. As she stepped out of her panties, kicked them gracefully into a pile with her slip, girdle, hosiery and brassiere. As she waggled innocently toward the bathroom.
Estee watched from an upholstered chair, her eyes gleaming, her face drawn into a pained grimace. Her fingers formed talons, clawed the chair's arm mercilessly.
* * *
In room 492 an almost similar scene was taking place. As a girl named Vernelle Sprague — Mrs. Keith Sprague — recently emerged from the shower, now robed herself before the admiring eyes of her roommate, a decided innocent named Dawn Riggs.
It was an adoration Vernelle vaguely enjoyed, and she posed and flexed her body boldly, took prolonged time with her dressing, tightened her stockings, dropped her breasts into her brassiere, slid her hands lovingly over her sex-cat body in near narcissist intent She was a tall blonde, very buxom, her hips wide and voluptuous, her waist narrowing in cunning taunt. Her sabre-toed pumps, black patent with skyliner heels, enhanced the taper and swell of her lovely legs.
In male parlance this was make-out material. This was boudoir-bait, a girl put on earth for but one purpose.
One had but to look into her blue eyes, see the lewd (and eternal) invitation there — a dare almost — and her true nature was revealed. This was stuff. With a capital S.
The face was beautiful, the lips lush. The nose was thin, aquiline, the brows flared in an exciting arch. But it was the mischief of those eyes the amoral twist of that mouth that was dead giveaway.
Vernelle Sprague was 29, and she was married; she taught school as a diversion rather than a vocation. By taking care of other peoples' kids she justified the fact that she wouldn't give her husband any of his own. Plus the fact that this gave her excuse to get away from abhorrent housekeeping chores, gave her operating room, constant ways to get away from home, from Keith's suffocating surveillance. Not to mention the fact that her $5500 salary allowed her the female paraphernalia her striving, accountant husband couldn't, as yet, afford to buy for her.
Pretties like the attention-drawing mink coat she'd worn to the convention. Like the sexy, French lingerie she modeled at that moment for her awestruck roomie. Which, besides being pretty, pumping up her ego, served other practical purposes besides. For if her lovely face, her body didn't serve to drive her male victims out of their minds, black lace never failed.
"Those are beautiful things," the green-as-grass Dawn Riggs sighed now. "I'd never dare wear lingerie like that. I'd feel evil."
Vernelle giggled. "Dummy. That's the way they're supposed to make you feel. You get a tingle so deep it makes you want to howl at the moon. And if it does that to you, imagine what it does to a man."
"Your husband, you mean? I should think he couldn't leave you alone for a minute."
"No, honey," Vernelle leered. "Not my husband. He never gets to see these things. I wear white for him. Very plain, very tattered. This is special." Her eyes locked with Dawn's, made the child blush.
"Then you were serious," Dawn faltered. "All that stuff you said... as we drove in. You meant it. You really intend to... "
"That's right, honey. I intend to swing. A different guy every night. Starting tonight. If I didn't have these conventions every year, if I couldn't let off steam..." She shuddered, let her hands slide down her belly, clutch herself. "I'd flip. Honest to God, I would. I'd go out of my cot ton-picking mind."
"Vernelle," Dawn cautioned, "you shouldn't talk like that. It's wrong to even think ..."
"Wrong? What'n hell's wrong about it? Kid, you've got lots and lots to learn. If men have got needs, if they like to spread the wealth around, what makes you think women haven't? Lord, sometimes I ache so bad I could claw the walls. And starting tonight..."
She posed herself more lasciviously, let her back bend in a mean arc, splayed her black-glossed legs in a sexy pose. "What say you come along, baby? We'll make a double date out of it. If you haven't tried the he-she bit yet, it's long past time. I'll teach you everything you need to know."
The tiny, somewhat pudgy redhead flushed even more furiously. The color did things for her, imbued her with a transient vivacity. Her eyes glistened with unbidden excitement, a sensation she couldn't identify swirled deep in her body. For that moment the plain, self-conscious girl came alive, looked actually pretty.
Dawn Riggs was 22, was a bedazzled, groping child, in her first year of teaching. Both of them employed in the primary department, Dawn teaching first, Vernelle third grade, it had been her misfortune (or good fortune, all things being relative) to become Vernelle Sprague's friend. And though the married woman shocked her at times with bawdy comments, she'd thought her leg was merely being pulled.
But tonight, living proof — Vernelle jiggled a knee impatiently. "C'mon, baby, say yes. We'll go cruising together. I'll teach you how to slap on the make-up; I'll tell you what to say. We'll gussy you up in one of your sexiest dresses..."
Dawn rubbed her face in a nervous mannerism, her color subsided slightly. "I couldn't, Vernelle. I'm not that kind of girl. I've never... with a man... I'd die."
"You cutting me down or something, honey? What's this that kind of girl junk? We're all that kind of girl. Only most of us are too chicken to admit it, to level with ourselves."
"Please, Vernelle, I wish you'd quit that kind of talk. If that's what you want, the way you want to act... "
"Stow it, Dawn. I don't buy it. What I want? The way I want to act? You know just as well as I do that you've got the hots right now. You're steaming your undies this very minute. You say you don't want it, but you do. I know you do. That's the trouble with the whole human race. We're all a bunch of hypocrites."
She turned abruptly, picked up a daring, black, sequined gown from the bed. Not bothering with a slip, she slithered it over her head, formed it to her hips. Shortly, after checking her hair and make-up a last time, the mink draped over her shoulders, she was ready to leave.
"Maybe next time, Dawn," she taunted at the door. "Think it over. I'll teach you the ropes from A to Z. You'll learn more from me in one night than you'll ever learn in a lifetime of trial and error." She waved insolently. "Night-night, baby. Don't wait up."
Her salacious giggle hung in the air long after Vernelle departed. And sitting on the bed wringing her hands, Dawn Riggs wondered at the strange impatience possessing her now, the alien heat that suffused her.
In room 712 another female exchange, a last minute primping was taking place. But this time there was a difference of sorts. In that both of the women were older, both more conservatively dressed, both seemingly stamped from the same mold. One female wore a robe, the other pulled on a wool knit suit, red, body hugging, buttock emphasizing.
The body the suit hugged was still in prime condition considering the mental attitudes, the resignations governing its owner. She was Faye Silver, 39, a principal at Kellerman Elementary School, one of Lock-haven's biggest plants. Kellerman located in an elite area, drawing upon children from that city's most influential families, hers was a prestige school, a prestige position. In direct commensuration to the importance of that principalship was Miss Silvers' $9,800 salary.
Which was, in essence, what was going through her mind at this very moment, warring with other drastically more elemental emotions. Fool, she lashed herself. Have you no principles, no decency? If you can't look at this from a moral viewpoint, look at it from a practical one. If word of this ever got out, how long would your precious job last? A scandal like this would ruin you!
Still her fingers tremblingly buttoned the front of that clinging, expensive suit, they secured zippers, touched at her dark (rinsed) hair. Still evaluated herself in the dresser mirror, thought how attractive she looked tonight. The devil has devious weapons, she castigated. Any other time she'd have looked tired, her hair would have been dry and brittle, her face would have showed the lines. But tonight, dark determination rampaging inside her brain — "I don't understand," her roommate reproved, "why you have to go out. You said you were tired. I should think you'd want to get to bed early."
"Please, Miriam. I'm a big girl now. I can take care of myself. I just have to get out, have a little drink. I haven't been sleeping well lately."
"Why don't you call down, have something sent up?"
"Stop fretting, will you, Miriam? It wouldn't be the same. Just seeing people, maybe bumping into somebody I know, will help. Really, I didn't ask you to come along because I needed a chaperone."
Which was a blatant lie. For this was exactly why Faye Silver had chosen Miriam. Perhaps the dour, prissy woman would have inhibiting influence, her mere presence might be enough to keep her under control.
"Well," Miriam Timm sniffed, "I just don't understand. If you were one of those young, flashy tramps, I could see. But you're not. You're a mature, responsible woman. A woman with a reputation to maintain. I swear these conventions get to be more scandalous every year. The way some of our new teachers act. Like chippies. I saw one as I came in. Hanging on a man's arm, going up in the elevator with him already. Hussies, all of them."
Faye smiled indulgently at Miriam, felt a warm glow of affection for the Puritanical old maid. She was sweet. And yet as much an innocent as some of the twenty-year-old girls she now knocked. She wondered how the maiden lady would act if a man ever once moved in, really applied pressure. "Surely," she said, "you don't compare me with them?"
"Of course not. Just an observation. The name those trollops are giving the profession."
Faye studied Miriam, took in the shroud like robe, a severe flannel thing that covered her from throat to ankles. She appraised that lined, leathery face, wondered that Miriam didn't take more pains with her grooming. She was 48, but looked more like 58. The tawny hair was unkempt, coarse, her brows in need of attention. A good cream would help her complexion.
And yet, she admitted, given time and attention, Miriam could be an attractive, chic woman. She could stand to lose ten pounds. She had good bones, her breasts were still firm and high beneath the baggy dresses she chose, her hips had a disconcertingly sassy bounce, her legs were attractive. She wished Miriam weren't so set in her ways, that she'd entrust herself to Toni, her favorite operator at the Lockhaven Beauty Salon. Toni could transform Miriam in an afternoon.
Then, she concluded, let's see just how prudish the old dear would be!
Once again Faye's eyes slid to the mirror; she appraised her reflection, marveled at her skin tone, at the tautness of her body, at the way the red suit flattered, made her look years younger. An erotic question formed in her head. Try to rout it as she did, she could not.
You were going to be strong this time; you weren't going to let yourself go, let things go out of control like last year. Talk about near escapes! And now, less than two hours in Fort Duquesne — Tart, she lashed. Unmitigated tramp.
But it was like shouting against the roar of the sea. The words disintegrated, slid off like so much oil.
And she was a creature without will, without conscience.
There was only that primordial drive.
She paused at the door, sucked in deep, rapid breaths in effort to slow her hammering heart. "Don't worry, Miriam," she said. "I won't be long. Just one drink maybe two. And I'll be back."
"Should I wait for you, dear?"
"That's not necessary. Like I said, I'm a big girl now. If anyone carries me off, it's my own fault."
Miriam Timm smiled a strange smile, rose, went into the bathroom. Faye Silver wasn't gone five minutes before the woman climbed into bed, turned out the bedside lamp. Two minutes later she was sleeping the sleep of the dead.
* * *
Room 820 wasn't really a room. It was a suite consisting of a kitchenette, large sitting room, ample bath and two bedrooms. By day it was a spacious, airy room, had large picture windows that looked across Fort Duquesne, gave a splendid view of the river and the lake in the distance. It rented at $40 a day, and the only thing more expensive were the penthouse apartments on the tenth floor. A rent which was negligible so far as its occupants were concerned; it could easily be deducted as business expense.
That is if Travis Nelson and Gordon Berry had ever bothered to file an income tax form during these past two years. Which, of course, they hadn't.
For their business was extremely amorphous, to say the least.
At this particular moment the two men, both in their early thirties, both handsome, rugged, in perfect physical shape, both exuding an irresistible male magnetism— more tools of their unsavory trade — were making last minute adjustments in their suite, were checking integral additions to its decor.
Things like the expensive, tripod-mounted camera they'd installed in one of the bedroom closets. Refinements like the fake photo murals they hung on the wall, murals back lighted by a light bulb at certain moments, back lighted by ultra-violet floodlights at other, even more crucial moments.
They checked their installation in the sitting room, in the closet to one side. Where a hole had been drilled in one of the doors for a camera lens to poke through. Which hole was cleverly concealed by a decorative cast metal coat of arms. A coat of arms that would tilt aside when there was need of peephole for either a daylight or infrared camera. Again two other photo murals were expertly positioned upon the sitting room walls.
"That should about do it, Trav," Gordon Berry said. He was the bigger of the men, stood perhaps six-two, was broad-shouldered, something of a fanatic when it came to the body-beautiful. His hair was cropped short, a silver blond patch that enhanced his bronzed complexion, made his crystalline blue eyes gleam with the fascination of a Siamese cat's. Small wonder he could number his female conquests in the hundreds.
"Good job," the man called Travis Nelson replied. "I always love this place. Everything's arranged so conveniently. When I think of some of those dogs we run into out west. Those architects. The way they skimp.
I'd sure's hell hate to be their wives."
"You wanna try the meter on those cameras?"
"I already did. This afternoon. While you were putting that divorcee in three-eighty through her paces. How'd it go? She softened up?"
"Tomorrow we make the kill. Got a lunch date with little Sonja. She'll never know what hit her? How about you? You gonna promote tonight? I'd just as soon lay low. So when I get Sonja on that bed she'll go right out of her mind.
"Going down in a minute," the man named Travis Nelson said. "Gotta get a pigeon fast. If we're going to con our quota this convention. God, talk about taking candy from babies. You confirm those reservations in Indianapolis for next weekend? What is it, anyway? One of those Women Service League go-go's?"
"Civic Clubs of America. That one'll be a real pushover. You'd think bags as old as that would know better. But they never do. They make a religion out of fooling themselves."
"How about our bookings? I think we've earned a vacation."
"We're booked a year ahead. Man, if you're going to crack these things, you've got to think ahead. I've already got us set for the Bentley Arms for next November. We hit the Ohio State Teachers Convention in October. Drag, drag."
The man speaking was a six-footer. But no bull, like his partner. Instead he was on the thin, gaunt side, his face tragic, his eyes dark, penetrating. He was a pretty boy type — something on the order of Geroge Chakiris — his black hair was worn long, with a wavy pompadour, medium length sideburns. Soulful sadness burned in his black eyes.
"What about a break?" Berry persisted. "When you have to make work out of sex..."
"Christmas we'll go south, scan the Miami Beach scene. Mix business with pleasure. There are always patsies in Miami Beach. God, how anything as dumb as women can wrap men around their fingers ..."
"If the men of America only knew what we know about their sweet, faithful wives. If they knew how wild they go when they latch onto strange stuff. Most of them don't put out once a month back home. But just let the tramps take things on the road. Saps, saps," he commiserated. "The American husband."
"Don't knock it. If they were any smarter we'd be out of business. Can't put the screws to a broad who doesn't care whether Daddy knows or not." Travis Nelson slipped on an expensive sport jacket. "You ready to go down? That bar's just crawling with pigeons. All of them begging to be taken."
They paused at the door, checked each other's appearance. "You got the signals straight? I wipe my forehead with my handkerchief, that means I'm gonna score. You make tracks, see what you can get."
"Check, Trav. Happy hunting." And as afterthought: "Try to think of it as pleasure, pal. Instead of work. That's the only consolation we have."
Berry chuckled sarcastically at his own joke.
Then they both started down to the hotel bar.
The Bentley Arms Hotel's Old English Room was jumping. And where one might expect the crowds to diminish as the night wore on and the staid teachers of America caved in, went beddy-bye, the direct opposite was the case. If anything the crowd was noisier, the smoke that much more suffocating, the din of chatter and juke box deafening.
The scene transpiring in the quaintly decorated cocktail lounge was something just this side of a bacchanal. The orange-glowing lanterns on the dark walls, the heavy beams overhead, the maple furniture, provided a cozy atmosphere, invited intimacies of all kinds, including sex. Whether they be conversational slips that 22 would prove embarrassing in days to come, or physical slips that could change the world for any and all participants.
Many of the younger teachers, male and female alike, persons only recently introduced to the joys (and pitfalls) of alcoholic consumption, were already making fools of themselves. At tables, in booths, at the bar itself. In many of the booths men and women who'd been strangers brief hours ago, were now wound up in shadowy tangle, kissing, caressing, initiating and allowing other intimacies beneath the table.
There were stealthy knee drills at the bar, with fingers sliding skirts against nylon, fingers invading the sanctuary of those skirts in the opaque gloom. Not to mention the more brazen pressures some of the steamy females conferred. Wherein the male's knee disappeared from sight, was camouflaged with carefully draped skirts, was given intimate embrace.