Thursday, December 12, 2013

137. is life a dream?

by horace p sternwall

illustrated by rhoda penmarq and roy dismas

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

for previous chapter, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here

click here for synopsis of all chapters so far

by the time mortimer had helped miss wilde up to her suite, gone back downstairs to the employee's room to get his coat and cap, and filled jackson and chester the bellhop in on what had happened at the automat, the police cars had all left and everything outside seemed back to normal.

he stopped in at the automat. it was now after five o'clock and it was filling up a little.

everyone who had been there at the time of the arrests was gone. jake and cosette had gone home.

betty, who had been shouting louder than anybody - mostly about the reward money - had gone somewhere. maybe she went with the police, to try to collect.

polly, the pretty and polite though not overwhelmingly friendly change girl who worked the graveyard shift was gone too, replaced by louise, the grumpy middle-aged woman who worked the morning shift.

mortimer, of course, talked to everybody and knew everybody's name, even the kind of people whom most of their fellow humans would regard as somewhat less than friendly. but louise looked like she was in an especially foul mood so he just nodded to her.

besides, it was not likely that she would know anything that he didn't.

he would pick up a paper on his way home, at maxie fleischman's newstand on bleecker street, either the gazette or the federal-democrat or both. maybe one of them already had an extra out.

you didn't see as many newsboys out on the street shouting "extra! extra! " as you used to, like you did before the war.

times were changing. mortimer didn't like it much, but what could you do?

he didn't really want a cup of coffee or anything else - his mother would make him a nice cup of chase and sanborn when he got home. but he didn't like to stop in at a place without buying something - it just seemed rude - so he got a cup of coffee and took a seat beside the window.

what a night! not that he hadn't seen plenty of even crazier nights in his twenty-six years at the st crispian. especially when the stock market crashed. and during the war.

still, it was a pretty wild night.

with stan coming and jake "disappearing" and nolan and miss wilde running around and the fight in the alley between young mr collinson and the man with the black mustache and meeting flossie flanagan and finally stan and the lady who had checked into the blue suite getting arrested - had it all really happened?

sure it had "really" happened - the way everything "really" happened. but mortimer knew better.

or did he?

how did he know that he knew? maybe he didn't know that he didn't know.

but one thing he was more sure of than ever - that nothing really existed except manhattan - manhattan up to the central park reservoir.


because maybe even that didn't really exist.

where had stan gone? he wasn't really on his way back to sing sing because there was no sing sing.

and the lady in the blue suite? where did they take her? to the same place as stan?

maybe there was a big hotel up behind the reservoir, and stan and the lady were staying there - with judge crater and amelia earhart and john dillinger and pretty boy floyd and hitler and tojo and mussolini and babe ruth and lou gehrig and president roosevelt and al capone and all the other people who were supposed to be "out there" beyond manhattan, but disappeared or died and were never heard from again.

how do you know? it made as much sense as anything.

but maybe nothing made sense.

maybe even manhattan was just a dream, rolling around with a million other dreams like the gum in a gumball machine.

mortimer finished his coffee and left the automat. he turned east on morton street down to bleecker and began walking south down bleecker to his apartment near the bowery.

he stopped at maxie's newstand and bought the federal-democrat. but none of the papers had their extras out yet.

not like the old days. if there really were any old days or new days.

his mother was waiting for him. "you're late," she told mortimer. but he was often late for one reason or another, and it was no big deal.

"it was busy," he told her. he took his seat at the kitchen table and she began making the chase and sanborn. since there was nothing about stan being arrested, he turned the federal-democrat to the sports page. "i had to help a lady up to her room. she was indisposed."

"that was nice of you. i got some nice fresh eggs at mister o'grady's yesterday," his mother said. "would you like one?"


"hard boiled or soft?" she had been asking him that for that for over thirty years, and he always said soft.

"soft," he told her again.

"and you should have a piece of toast. you need to keep your strength up."

the end

of "tales of the hotel st crispian"

watch for "new tales of the st crispian"

coming soon!

Monday, December 9, 2013

136. a new day

by horace p sternwall

illustrated by eddie el greco and danny delacroix

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

for previous chapter, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here

click here for synopsis of all chapters so far

dawn was just beginning to break over the saw mill river when michael eased the mud-spattered studebaker into the driveway of his elmsford home.

his home. all his.

because he knew carol wasn't coming back.

he didn't know where she had gone, but he knew she wasn't coming back.

he would have to listen to questions from his parents and people in the neighborhood, and maybe put up with some razzing or snide remarks at the firm, but basically he felt relieved.

he would never have to listen to carol again.

he could be michael again, and never again have to answer to the name of henry.

he got out of the car and locked it.

he went to the front door and unlocked it.

what a bore life was, forever locking and unlocking things.

suddenly he wondered if he would ever have another girl friend, or another wife.

gee, why think about that now, when he was newly freed? he pushed the thought out of his head.

it was replaced by another thought - would he have to go through the rigmarole of actually divorcing carol? she was not coming back. not even for some of his money. somehow he knew this. so why bother?

unless he wanted to marry someone else.

that was the least of his worries right now.

he hung his hat up on the coatrack inside the front door and sat down on the couch in the living room .

did he want a drink?

strangely, he was not tired. and he didn't have to go to work.

he looked up and saw his most precious possession.

his television set.

he looked at his watch. almost five thirty. the news would come on in another hour.

he wondered what had happened to stanley slade.

he had to have been out of his mind to think he could have gotten the reward money for slade. if he had gone to the police, they would have wanted to know why he had not contacted them right away. he might have ended up in jail himself!

best to just forget the whole thing. and start his new life.

with his television. his television, that he could watch whatever he damn well pleased on.

like dagmar.

dagmar. now there was a real woman.

though a minute ago michael had not felt tired, suddenly he fell asleep on the couch.

dreaming of dagmar.


the first coffee shop carol and fortescue came across after leaving the police station was, as mullihan had predicted, just opening up. a woman was unlocking the front door.

the proprietress, or waitress or whatever she was, saw them standing there watching her and invited them in and told them to make themselves comfortable.

new york sure was a friendly place.

they settled into a booth. carol took her pack of herbert tareytons out of her purse and took the last tareyton out of the pack and lit it.

she looked fortescue in the eye. "you told the detective he could contact me through you, if he had to."

"yes, i did, didn't i?"

"i guess that means you are going to take me on as your secretary - or girl friday or sidekick, whatever you want to call it."

"we can try it," he agreed. "we can try it for old england, see how it works out."

"good. i'm glad we got that settled."

fortescue looked over at the blackboard menus which the woman had finished writing up behind the counter. "they seem to have a very reasonably priced breakfast special. would you care for one?"

"yeah, i'm starving. i could probably eat four of them." carol laughed. "but i will settle for one of them."

fortescue looked over and caught the woman's eye. "i'll be right with you, " she told him. "as soon as i get the coffee going."

"please, take your time."

"so, " said carol, " after we eat i guess we can go back to your office and you can introduce me to your couch."

"oh - i don't think that will be necessary."


"i mean - unless of course you prefer - "

"don't worry. we are on the same page here."

"excellent." fortescue glanced over at the woman behind at the counter, who was busy at the coffee machine.

"you know, i just have one request," said carol.

"ah. and what might that be?"

"no matter what happens, no matter what cases you get or how many we are on , i don't ever, ever, ever , want to set to have to foot in elmsford new york again."

"oh, i think i can promise that much."


mortimer had started to escort hyacinth to the elevator and up to her suite when sirens started wailing out in the street, and police cars and paddy wagons screeched to a halt in front of the lobby door.

seeing that mortimer desperately wanted to rush outside himself, hyacinth told him to leave her in a chair in the lobby and go out and see what was happening.

could it have turned out any better? not only had stanley been arrested, but according to mortimer's confused account - picked up by talking to the police - one thing about mortimer, he wasn't afraid to talk to anybody - he had been arrested with some floozy who was even more wanted than himself!

mortimer had seen them together, handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser.

ha! what was going on there? not that she really cared, but it was one more reason to forget about him and keep his ill-gotten gains for herself.

needless to say the whole affair had helped sober her up a little, and she had had no trouble getting mortimer to leave her outside her door, once they had managed between them to get it unlocked.

"you sure you don't want a little hair of the dog, miss wilde?"

"i might, mortimer, but i can manage it myself, thank you."

he had left. once the door was closed behind her the one thing she really wanted to do was make sure the trunk full of stanley's stolen goods was properly covered. she knew nolan had not got into it in his search of the premises - he had been in a hurry and looking for jake - but she wanted to be really, really sure it was safe, at least for now.

once she was satisfied, she flopped back on the bed and ran through the whole night in her mind. whew! it had been "better than a play," to use that boring old expression.

all she wanted right now was to sleep. when florinda showed up, she would slip her a few dollars and send her home for the day.

and forget about reading that new play from augustus strongbow - the one he was so proud of for writing himself - that could wait until at least tomorrow too. or the next day.

she would sleep all day.

the bright new day.

life was good.

and it was going to get better.

137: is life a dream?

Friday, December 6, 2013

135. "all nights are long"

by manfred skyline

illustrated by roy dismas and konrad kraus

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

for previous chapter, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here

click here for synopsis of all chapters so far

pete palomine turned the key in the front door of his modest three story walkup (with loft) on spring street.

"hey, pete!" came a voice from the shadows.

pete was used to being braced at all hours by all sorts of people. for years he had encouraged it, made it his stock in trade.

now he was starting to get a little sick of it. he turned. two figures came toward him.

"bunchy. how it's going, old timer?"

"good, pete, good. hey, you don't seem so excited to see me."

"i've had a long night."

"all nights are long, pete. you don't mind if we come in, do you?"

"no, that's all right, come on in."

"this is my friend rooster. i don't know if you two have met."

pete took in the skinny red-haired young man with his black turtleneck. " i don't think so. you an artist?"

"rooster is a poet."

"that's even worse. but come in, come in." he opened the door and started up the dark stairs. bunchy and rooster followed him.

"there's not much light here, pete."

"you should learn to see in the dark."

when they got to the top of the stairs pete pulled the chain on an overhanging bulb. it shone a yellow light on the door of the loft and he opened the door with a large old-fashioned key.

inside the loft, there was a standing lamp beside the door and pete turned it on, then flopped down on a big stuffed couch.

"you two can make yourselves at home." pete looked up at bunchy. "but i'm not in the mood for much. i'm tired. " he took his jacket off and tossed it on the end of the couch. "were you looking to do some work for me?"

rooster looked over at bunchy. "work?" he asked him.

"you know," pete went on, "i got nothing against other artists - or even poets. but what i'm really looking for is just ordinary folks, you know? winos, junkies, bums - people who are innocent of artifice. the salt of the earth. maybe even people who work for a living."

bunchy laughed. "no, no. pete - you got it all wrong. we're not here about that at all."

"then what are you here for?"

"well, we thought you might have some dope we could buy."

"dope you could buy? buy? are you shitting me? you think i still sell dope? don't you read life magazine? i'm a world famous artist. well, almost a world famous artist. i'm not selling fucking weed."

bunchy laughed again. "hey, i thought you might have some. some good shit. but, listen, you should hear rooster's story here. it will be worth your while just to hear this cat's story."


"really. i almost didn't believe it myself, and that's my game. believing people's stories."

pete seemed to relax a little. "speaking of stories, i got quite a story myself. you wouldn't believe what just happened to me tonight."

"try me."

"you read in the papers about this guy slade? the jewel thief. escaped from sing sing?"

"i might have. mostly i just look at the racing form."

"anyway, long story short, i'm in this automat up near washington square and slade's there and the cops come in and bust him."

"wow. sounds like excitement at its most intense."

"and they bust this chick with him and then they nab these two characters that i was sitting with. one of them a guy in drag."


"they sure did. which makes me think maybe i should start to be more careful about rubbing elbows with the flotsam of civilization. like you. nothing personal, you understand."

"but they didn't arrest you?"

"no, i just happened to be up getting myself another cup of coffee. so when all the excitement went down i just made like john dillinger or the artful dodger and slipped out the door. and somehow someway made my way back here."


"yeah, there's this little chick who works in the place. kind of cute in a librarian way, and she gives me the eye when i slip out but i guess she didn't blow the whistle because here i am."

"i guess it never hurts to be tall, dark and handsome."

"i guess not."

"that's a great story, pete, but wait till you hear rooster's. because your story is of this world and i don't think his is."

pete shrugged. "you can tell me. but i'm telling you right now i can't help you out because i don't keep any dope here."


detectives mullihan and goldsmith finally finished laughing about dooley's lucky exploit.

mullihan took a deep breath and looked at goldsmith. "but he isn't going to get up to 86th street now. so i guess that means you will."

"what! look at the time."

"you were ready to go before."

"that was forty-five minutes ago. now it's almost time for me to sign out."

"the butler said they'd be up."

"the butler! i bet he went to bed himself."

"yeah." mullihan yawned. then he yawned again. he looked over at carol. "excuse me, miss - ma'am."

"you're excused."

mullihan looked at fortescue. "can i ask you a question, limey?"

"certainly, detective."

"can i trust you?"

"of course."

"if i get your phone number, can i trust you to come in if i call you?"

"absolutely. you have my word."

"and you, young lady?"

"oh, yes, sir - detective."

"i'm putting my whole career on the line for you two." mullihan yawned again.

"and we appreciate it," fortescue assured him. "here's my card."

"and her number?"

"ah - you can reach her through me."

"all right, get out of here."

"thank you, detective."

fortescue and carol jumped up from their seats and headed for the door.

fortescue looked back. "can i ask you one thing?"


"is there some place nearby still open where we could get some coffee?"

"still open? it's almost five o'clock. the places that are closed will all be opening up."

136. a new day

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

134. "a revolution in human understanding"

by horace p sternwall

illustrated by konrad kraus and roy dismas

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

for previous chapter, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here

click here for synopsis of all chapters so far

carol watched as the big clock in the police station continued to move. very slowly.

mullihan finished his brief account, to fortescue, of the robbery on long island in which the dead man, mueller, had been suspected of involvement. his account was of course, short on details, as the police kept most of those to themselves to verify any tips or information that might come in.

fortescue shook his head. "i am afraid i can't help you, detective. much as i would like to. none of these names are familiar to me. nor have i been involved recently in any cases involving art or even jewelry."


"no, i am sorry to say that lust, rather than avarice, continues to provide the fuel that keeps the little light of the private detective's profession burning."

mullihan considered this. "you said 'recently'. do you have any experience with this type of crime?"

"a bit. back in england i was sort of apprenticed to a fellow named reg roper who was quite a renowned hand in that line. and i was able to put some of his contacts to good use when i arrived on these shores. but i'm afraid that that's all ancient history now. i would say i haven't worked an art or jewelry case for about three years now."

"right. so have you heard from your pal reg lately?"

"no. nor has anyone else so far as i know. reg went missing in the last months of the war. and as i say, no one seems to have heard from him since."

"mmm." mullihan suppressed a yawn.

"of course i could always get back in the game. look here, detective, do you know if by chance the householders involved are offering a reward in this case? or if they have retained any private assistance in it?"

mullihan laughed. "come on, limey, what are you trying to do? you know i'm not going to steer business your way. what would the chief think about that? or all your buddies up at al's? find these people yourself if you want."

fortescue smiled. "it was worth a try."

suddenly the phone at the front desk rang. they heard the desk sergeant answer it.

"police station. yes, dooley." the sergeant listened a while, and started to laugh .

"are you kidding me? what? no, no, you did right to call central." he laughed again. "i'll transfer you to mullihan. hey, mullihan, wait till you hear this!"


when sniffy returned from the ladies room to her booth in bob's bowery bar her new poet friend was still there. it looked like he hadn't touched his beer.

"thanks," she told him, as she slid into her seat.

"not a problem," he replied. "i guess the seat must be very important to you, " he added with a straight face.

was that some kind of smart crack? but sniffy just said, "i'm waiting for somebody."

"of course." he stared at her.

"so you're a poet, huh?" she asked him, just to break the silence.

"yes, of sorts."

"aren't all poets of sorts?"

"ha ha. yes, well, i dabble in poetry but it is not my primary avocation."


"no, my primary avocation is science. i am a scientist."

"bully for you."

"yes, i am engaged in a groundbreaking study which i believe will cause a revolution in human understanding in our time."

"double bully for you."

the poet - scientist stared intently at sniffy. "tell me, have you heard of doctor alfred kinsey?"

sniffy stared back. "heard of him? yeah, i've heard of him. and talked to him, too. me and my friend rooster were some of the first people he talked to when he started coming around." she laughed. "so, if you're trying to pass yourself off as kinsey, pal - "

"oh, no no! ha ha, what a thought! no, my name is morgenthaler - percival morgenthaler, and i assure you i am my own man. very much my own man, ha ha!"

"so what's kinsey got to with it?"

"i was just going to say that, like kinsey, i aim to explore a vast area of human experience too long neglected by respectable science. something far, far more fundamental than sex."

"and what, pray tell, might that be?"


"oh. yeah, that's pretty fundamental, i guess."

"i aim to produce the first truly comprehensive study of human desperation. based on exhaustive case studies, of course."

"say, it looks like i'm out of smokes. you wouldn't happen to have one, would you?"

"why, i certainly would."

suddenly sniffy knew the two bills were not going to show. and who knew where rooster would end up?

she might as well listen to dr percival morgenthaler. surely he was good for at least one drink.

135. "all nights are long"