The New Generation of Classic Short Stories

Vol. 22, No. 4

Tell Him I’m Dangerous

by Barry Gifford

Roy came home from work at the Red Hot Ranch around ten-thirty and found his mother sitting alone on the couch in the living room watching TV. He was fifteen years old and his mother was thirty-eight. She had recently been divorced from her third husband, by whom she had a child, Roy’s sister, Sally, who was almost four.
     “Hi, Ma, Sally asleep?”
     “Yes, Roy, just now. I let her stay up late. I was teaching her how to play gin rummy. She caught on fast.”
     “That doesn’t surprise me, Sally’s smart.”
     “I was smart once, too,” said his mother. “How was work?”
     “All right. Busy, like every Saturday. I thought you were going out tonight with Kay and Harvey.”
     “They wanted me to meet a friend of theirs, a guy who’s in town from Minneapolis, to show him Chicago. A business associate of Harvey’s. Made a lot of money in jukeboxes, Kay told me. But I’m not up to it. Besides, Madeleine couldn’t babysit tonight, she’s got a date.”
     “She’s a cute girl,” said Roy, “lots of boys like her. She’s sixteen. I think her babysitting days are over.”
     “Madeleine’s a nice kid, I hope she makes good choices. I’m off men for now.”
     “I’m a man.”
     “You’re my son, my beautiful boy. Come sit and watch a movie with me. It’s just about to come on. I saw it when it came out, in 1948, just before you were born. Roxanne Hudnut and Diane Root as sisters.”
     “One good, one bad?”
     “Both kind of bad, if I remember right. One more than the other.”
     “OK, Ma, I’ll wash up a little first.”
     The movie’s title was Tell Him I’m Dangerous. Roxanne Hudnut and Diane Root were still in their twenties when it was made, as had been Roy’s mother when she’d seen it in a theater. She’d always identified with Roxanne Hudnut, whom she resembled. Both of them were brunettes with slightly slanted chestnut eyes that gave their faces an almost oriental look. When they looked up at you slowly or sideways it was easy to believe they were keeping dark secrets. Tell Him I’m Dangerous was in black and white, as were most of Roxanne Hudnut and Diane Root’s movies, many of which were mysteries of some kind involving crimes of passion. Roy sat down on the couch halfway through the opening credits. His mother had a blanket over her legs.
     “Tell me if you get chilly, Roy,” she said. “You can share the blanket.”
     The time of the movie was present day late 1940s. A young woman named Ann Rivers, played by Roxanne Hudnut, arrives in a small Midwestern town, asks for and gets a job in a flower shop run by an older woman, Mrs. Morgan. Ann tells her that she’s recently dropped out of business college, secretarial school, in the capital city. She needs a break from that hectic life. Ann says she has no immediate family, that both of her parents are dead and she has no siblings. Mrs. Morgan is a kind lady and helps her find a room to rent in a local boarding house with a good reputation run by Mr. and Mrs. Drummond, a middle-aged couple.
     At the Drummond house Ann meets another resident, Lee Lockwood, a contractor and structural engineer, who is in town working on the repair of a bridge. He’s a few years older than Ann, calm with a pleasant manner.
     “He looks a little like Dick Brothers, only shorter. Remember him, Roy? That car dealer I had a few dates with?”
     A few days after their first meeting, Lee Lockwood invites Ann out to dinner. They begin spending time together but she avoids giving him any detailed information about her background other than what she’s told Mrs. Morgan. Three weeks later another young woman arrives in the town, also a stranger, and tells people that she’s searching for her younger sister, Ann Rivers. Her name is Sarah Rivers. Sarah is directed to Mrs. Morgan’s flower shop, where she introduces herself to Mrs. Morgan. Ann enters and does not seem surprised to find her sister there. Mrs. Morgan is surprised because Ann had told her she has no family. Sarah explains that she and Ann had a falling-out and Ann left home, that’s all, but Mrs. Morgan remains suspicious, as if there is something left unexplained.
     Sarah also rents a room at the Drummond house, where she encounters Lee Lockwood, to whom she introduces herself as Ann’s slightly older sister. The sisters argue in Sarah’s room. Ann had accused Sarah’s fiancé, Bob Dean, of attempting to rape her. He was found guilty of sexual assault and sentenced to six months in prison. Sarah has never believed this accusation. Bob Dean denied it, but Ann has stuck to her story.

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