Author, Phillip Rader, sadly no longer among us - except for his extraordinary written works. Lucky us. We got to know and care about him, either in person or through his writing.
Philip Rader lived in San Diego, California. He researched chemical and ocean currents at sea, managed the engineering materials testing laboratories for General Dynamics in San Diego, and taught chemistry at San Diego State University. He also taught college management courses on Navy ships of the line. After retirement, Philip devoted his life to writing two novels, scads of short stories, and even more scads of poetry.
His scientific work has been published in Atlas of Physical and Chemical Properties of the Pacific Ocean, Expedition Equapac, 1956. His stories and essays have been published in Georgia Sportsman magazine, Balloon Life magazine, and a literary essay comparing Faulkner and Hemingway published in Literary Potpourri. His winning entry was published in a QPB paperback, The World's Greatest Shortest Stories.
Philip had a rage to live and did a heap of raging in the China Seas, Philippines, Japan, Hawaii, Canton Lagoon in the Phoenix Group, and on the East Cape of Baja where gallant marlin run.
Phillip passed away early in 2008.
Paul stops by the array of mailboxes in the marble entry of his apartment building. Using the electronic keycard to open the box, he retrieves a small handful of mail. The white leather couch looks inviting, so he sits in the foyer and reads the day’s collection. There’s nothing but advertisements, political stuff, and a letter from his agent. He reads the letter, folds and stuffs it into his jacket pocket. He just wants me to keep turning out the pages, muses Paul. The rest of the mail he tosses into a handy round bronze trash bin with a swinging lid.
What a day. That know-it-all publisher keeps suggesting changes. If my story is going to retain its zing, I’m doing it my way. What’s he thinking? He wants my hero to marry the girl instead of signing on for an extended cruise to other adventures? What crap! Hollywood garbage, and he’s supposed to be the “best on the street”. And he calls me stubborn, says I’m too much of a dreamer. Damn it, I’m the author. I know my story. Luckily, he gave in. He knew I’d walk. But, damn it, I put up with four hours of that smiling slow southern drawl telling me he wanted a “few, rather insignificant, changes in plot. ‘Have Harry marry the girl.’ Cripes! Everything is formula for him. I think his profession sucked all the real imagination out of him and left a husk of bad B-picture realism. He really tired me out.
When the doors open, Paul punches the button on the wall of the plush elevator. The doors quietly touch, and a low background hum signals he’s on the way to the thirty-first floor, his bachelor’s pad for almost four years. Ever since his divorce it’s been his lonely home-sweet-home.
There’s the muffled whir of cables, and then complete silence. It seems like he waits twenty seconds for the doors to open. Then they part.
Did I call for the wrong floor? I’ve never been here before.
Paul is looking into the vestibule of a huge apartment, the kind that cost several hundred grand a year, certainly far classier than his. Sweet music plays as he steps out and walks into a room lit entirely with candles. People are dancing. He recognizes no one as he glances from couple to couple. All strangers. They’re swaying dreamily to Jackie Gleason’s music, eyes closed, not talking, as the solo trumpet offers a passage to passion. I’m in the wrong place. He turns and heads toward the elevator.
“Paul! Oh, Paul! You are just in time! I want you to meet Hildegard. Come over and meet Paul, Hilda.”
What? I’ve never seen this woman. How does she know my name? And who’s Hildegard, for Christ’s sake?
He finds out immediately. She’s a tall blonde who appears to be in her early thirties, poured into a gleaming sequined gown of ivory-colored silk. She offers a pleasant open smile.
“This is our neighbor, Paul, Countess,” says the hostess. She turns to Paul. “Hilda recently arrived from Europe, Paul. She is a genuine Countess. Make her feel at home.” She laughs a hollow hostess laugh, turns and is gone.
Paul can’t stop staring at Hilda. “Shall we?” He opens his arms. She’s in them in seconds and they’re dancing.
She snuggles up, and they’re like one. She’s light on her feet, effortless, yet intimate. Very intimate.
“Have you been here in New York long?” Paul asks, desperate for a break from the closeness, though he’s having emotions he hasn’t felt since…well...too long. He loves it, but it’s so intimate it’s frightening.
Hilda whispers, “Let’s not talk. I’ve been waiting for you all evening.”
Now what in Hell do you reply to something like that? Paul thinks. He swallows twice and keeps dancing. A strand of immaculate blonde hair is in his mouth; her perfume is subtle like something one might experience in a garden on a balmy summer night. He breathes her into him, finds she’s already there.
“You feel the same thing, don’t you?” She whispers it against his neck. “You know exactly how I feel.”
He knows how she feels under his hands. Hair is standing on the back of his neck. Paul can’t answer.
“Let’s leave,” she says.
“Leave to where?”
“My apartment. It’s the next floor up.”
By this time she has more than his full attention. Everything about him is at full attention, and she’s holding on to him with soft desperation.
“Should we just leave?” he asks. “Shouldn’t we say something to the hostess?”
“I will tell her I didn’t feel well when I see her tomorrow. If I see her tomorrow. Come.”
She leads Paul to the elevator door and pushes the up button. His eyes follow her curves, and though he has only a moment, they take in every inch of her. My first impression was right. She’s absolutely thoroughbred, slight-but-magnificent.
When the elevator door opens, she steps in first, catches his hand and gently holds it with both of hers, looking up at him with intensity. Her eyes plead urgency.
Paul’s having trouble breathing. He wants her right there in the elevator. The elevator stops and the doors open into the entry hall of her suite. It appeared architecturally identical to the one they just left, but thickly carpeted and quietly arranged.
“Make yourself comfortable, Paul. I will get us a drink.”
He’s wondering if the furnishings are hers, or if they came with the apartment lease.
Hilda returns to the room and sees him looking at the paintings, oils and pastels, Degas’ and Picasso’s. “They’re real,” she says, “and they’re mine. Some say it is a foolish waste of money, but my life would not be the same without them. I have spent a small fortune on a half dozen paintings.”
Then she laughs. It’s water splashing over cobbles in a mountain stream. She smiles and Paul’s legs get weak.
“Listen, Hilda, I don’t know how else to ask, but before we go any further…I mean, well…is there a Count?”
“There was, but no longer. He’s a no-account. We divorced, but I retained the title. I didn’t want to change it to countless.”
Paul laughs nervously. At last, a woman who knows how to be funny.
“Do me a favor, Paul?” she asks, and smiles into his weakness.
He’d swim the shark-infested China Seas for her at that moment. “Of course, Hilda. What?”
“My refrigerator disappointed me. Just across the avenue there is a package store. I have them chill Piper Heidsich for me. I would absolutely adore you if you would pick up two bottles they are holding for me. I have an account with them. They’ll be expecting you. I’ll call them right now to tell them you are on the way. I hate to ask, love, but it will give me a chance to freshen up and change.”
The way she said change and narrowed her eyes made promises to Paul of the unforgettable. “Of course. Yes…of course. I’ll hurry right back.”
The elevator opens as soon as he presses the call button. Suddenly he’s questioning his sanity. There’s a huge apartment building across the street. I’ve never seen a package store in all my years of living in this building. It was one of those thoughts that flash behind one’s eyes, then gets tossed into the trash bin of the mind.
Time crawls as the elevator goes down thirty-two floors. Paul hurries out onto a street that’s bustling with theatergoers and diners. He crosses the avenue at the light, and, There it is. I’ll be damned.
He walked into the well-lit package store.
“What’ll it be, sir?” asks the debonair white-haired man back of the counter.
“Two cold bottles of Piper Heidsich, please.”
“Oh, yes, for the Countess. They are chilled just the way she likes. I have them here in a sack.”
Well, so far so good, thinks Paul. The clerk hands him the bag and waves a friendly good evening with the flat of his hand.
Within minutes Paul’s back in the elevator looking for the button for floor thirty-two. There’s no floor thirty-two button. He stands stunned for a second, and then punches thirty-one.
After a few moments the doors open to the floor where he lives. He pauses, but finally moves, a man overcome with confusion. Feeling unsure of himself for the first time in years, he walks down the carpeted corridor, past his apartment, and opens the heavy door to the stairway. He goes up the steps until he can go no further. A sign on the locked door says, “NO ADMITTANCE – ROOF”
Head spinning, Paul returns to his apartment, opens the bag and looks at the bottles of cold champagne. He closes the bag and goes back to the elevator, more slowly this time. Tiny beads of perspiration have formed on his upper lip.
At the ground floor, he leaves the foyer and walks out onto the sidewalk–and then to the corner. I’ll go back to the package store. Perhaps they know something. They might have a billing address. Where’s that sign? There is no sign, and no store. His feet feel like they’re made of concrete.
He crosses the street back at the corner and enters his building through the heavy glass doors. What the Hell’s going on? I have to think this out. He slouches down on the white leather couch in the sitting area in front of the elevators.
A hand on his shoulder gently rouses him. “Sir. You’ve been sleeping. Wouldn’t you like to go to your rooms?”
It’s George, the night watchman. “So I have,” Paul says, trying to focus blurry eyes. “Thank you, George.”
Paul straightens and shakes his head. Well, damn. It’s only a dream? There’s no 32nd floor. There’s no countess named Hildegard, and there isn’t a package store. It was all a dream?
“Thank you again, George,” Paul says, and looks around the foyer once more. I must have fallen asleep while reading my mail. I’ll be damned. I guess I really have been dreaming. No bag – no Countess.
He gets up from the couch and heads for the elevator.
George is coming toward him, a large paper sack in hand. The bag clinks as he holds it out.
“Sir…you’ll want your champagne?”
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