Saturday, August 25, 2012

71. "ten grand to Bora Bora"

by Horace P. Sternwall

edited by Dan Leo*

illustrated by roy dismas and rhoda penmarq

*Associate Professor of Middle English, Assistant Badminton Coach, Olney Community College; editor of The Final Furlough: Previously Uncollected Stories of War, by Horace P. Sternwall; Olney Community College Press, “The Obscure Modern Masters Project”.

click here for previous episode, here to begin at the beginning

click here for synopsis of all chapters so far

It is past midnight in the great unsleeping city, and a man of about thirty years of age strides determinedly down Seventh Avenue.

The man’s name is Michael Chandler, although his wife calls him Henry.

Not fifteen minutes ago he had been on the verge of passing out -- not only from having drunk nine Old Fashioneds, but also because of the natural weariness incurred from having worked over fifty hours that week drawing up unbelievably tedious legal contracts, and from spending the present evening in the company of people even more boring than he was -- and Michael, unlike a true, dyed-in-the-wool master bore, knew himself to be a fairly boring fellow.

No, Michael was wide awake now, in fact he felt more awake than he had ever felt in his life, and he walked quickly and steadily, staggering and weaving not in the least. He felt his manly stride gobbling up the six or seven blocks from Henry and Estelle’s building to his destination, the venerable Hotel St Crispian, and these were his thoughts as they rioted through his brain:

Ten grand.

Ten thousand dollars.

Ten thousand simoleons.

And for what?

For giving the police some information leading to the capture of the arch criminal Stanley Slade.

Stan Slade, whom Michael and his wife Carol had picked up hitchhiking in the fog on their way into the city tonight. This charming fellow in his stolen, ill-fitting clothes, a fellow roughly Michael’s age, a fellow who had readily admitted to them who he was: the infamous Stanley Slade, international jewel thief and now escaped convict.

Why had he admitted his identity so readily, even cheerfully? Why had he trusted them, total strangers, not to turn him in?

Because he had, as he had said, taken one look at them and thought, “These are people who'd want to help out a guy who's stood up to the bankers and the fat cats and given them a taste of their own medicine.”

Michael and Carol Chandler -- this professional thief had trusted them. Michael (or Henry) and Carol, this not-very-successful attorney and his unhappy and bored wife -- Stanley Slade had trusted them.


Michael and Carol did not look like rebels, they looked like what they were: middle-class, suburban, vaguely unhappy, ordinary people.

The only thing extraordinary about them was that they hadn’t had children yet.

They were always putting off having children for “another year or so”, until Michael got more “settled at the firm”.

Well, they had been married now for seven years, and they were still putting off having children, even though Michael/Henry was quite settled at the firm. He was settled all right. He was the one they dumped all the boring work on. He was settled in his little niche, in his little office, writing his tedious contracts, while young hotshots who’d joined the firm years after him had already been made junior partners.

He was settled all right.

There was the hotel, the St Crispian.

This was where they had dropped Stan Slade off earlier that evening.

The last they had seen of him he had given them a jaunty wave and disappeared into an alleyway at the rear of the hotel…

Their meeting with Stanley Slade was undoubtedly the single most exciting thing that had happened, ever, in either Michael’s or Carol’s lives. That had been it. That had been the high point. After that one very strange ride with this world-renowned criminal, their lives could go nowhere but downhill.


Down and down, into middle age, into old age, into decrepitude and death.

Unless Michael made a change in his life.

And this possibility for a change in his life had been handed to him by none other than this stranger out of the fog, this charming and oddly-trusting criminal -- Stanley Slade.

Stanley Slade had handed Michael the opportunity to earn ten thousand dollars -- ten thousand bucks, ten thousand simoleons -- and legally, indeed by means of being an exemplary law-abiding citizen.

Ten thousand.

What he could do with ten thousand…

Michael had never wanted to be a lawyer.

As a boy he had wanted to be a cowboy, or a circus clown maybe, but he had never wanted to be a lawyer.

Now he no longer wanted to be a cowboy or a circus clown, but what he really wanted to be was -- a beach bum.

A bachelor beach bum. Without Carol. Carol didn’t love him. She didn’t respect him. She didn’t even like him. No, he would leave Carol, leave her the house in Scarsdale, leave her the Hudson too, while he went off and became a beach bum.

A guy with a shack on the beach who spent his days fishing and drinking rum.

In Tahiti maybe, or Bora Bora.

Ten thousand would go a long way to setting himself up as a beach bum. In fact, if he invested the bulk of the money in government bonds he might be able to live off of it for years, maybe even for the rest of his life, because how expensive could it be to live in a shack on the beach in Bora Bora?

He would eat the fish he caught.

He would vary his diet with fruit he would pick from the trees -- coconuts and mangoes, bananas and pineapples.

His only real expenditure would be for rum and cigarettes.

Maybe he would take a native wife, one who preferably spoke only the most basic English. Or maybe he wouldn’t. Even a native girl might turn out in the end to be an emasculating bitch like Carol…

Suddenly Michael was aware that he was walking up a set of steps, and that an old man in a uniform was opening a door for him.

“Good evening, sir,” said the old man. “Welcome to the Hotel St Crispian.”

“Yes,” said Michael, almost as if he were surprised to be here. “The St Crispian.”

“Is this your first visit here?” said the old man.

“Yes, yes it is,” said Michael. “But I’ve heard your advertisements on the radio.”

“Ah, yes,” said the old fellow, with what sounded like a practiced chuckle.

“How’s that song go?” said Michael. And he sang:

“Welcome to the Hotel St Crispian,
the old St Crispian Hotel,
where you can always tell
that the service will be swell..”

“Yes,” said the old man, chuckling again, “it’s quite an amusing jingle.”

“But (Michael continued to sing) if you find
that you don’t like us
here at the old St Crispian,
the St Crispian Hotel,
oh well,
fear not,
for you can just go straight to…
some other hotel!”

“Ha ha,” said the old man. “You know all the words.”

“Yes,” said Michael. “I know all the words.”

(To be continued.)

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