Wednesday, June 18, 2014

“The Death of Tommy Sullivan”

by Horace P. Sternwall

Originally published in “Ace Crime Stories”, December, 1950; reprinted for the first time in book form in “Don’t Forget the Gat”: The “Gwendolyn and Auntie Margaret” Stories of Horace P. Sternwall, Vol. 6, the Olney Community College Press; edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Associate Professor of Post Modern Populist Fiction, Olney Community College.

illustrated by konrad kraus and danny delacroix

for previous Gwendolyn story, click here

to begin the Gwendolyn stories, click here

Dearest Pippi,

I hope you had a pleasant or at least not too “Dickensian” Christmas up at the Rozenzweig Home for Girls. Has it snowed very much up there in the Catskills and did they at least let you girls go out in the yard and build a snowman and perhaps have a spirited snowball battle? 

The city was quite lovely as it always is at the holiday season with all the twinkling multicolored lights and the decorations and those poor drunken fellows in their ill-fitting Santa Claus costumes disconsolately ringing handbells and croaking “Ho ho ho” when you can just tell all they really want is to drink whisky and lots of it. And those Salvation Army gangs with their grim and unflattering uniforms, shivering and red-faced on the street corners singing their hymns in hoarse cracking voices.

I got a most lovely smart navy blue coat from my Auntie Margaret and shoes and real silk stockings. And a hat shaped like a blue brick but still quite smart and French.

Serge got me a real Italian switchblade stiletto razor sharp too which who knows one day may come in handy. Pierre got me a silly French doll he does not seem to realize I am 12 years old now not seven years of age anymore as I was when he first joined Auntie’s little ménage. But it is a very pretty doll nonetheless and so even if I don’t “play” with it, “per se” I keep it in my bed and do find it somehow comforting to sleep with it; it is so chillingly lifelike and sometimes indeed when I cannot sleep I even find myself carrying on lengthy conversations with her I have named her Marie-France in honor of the country of her origin.

I got my Auntie a divine silver fox stole from Saks for her present. When she asked me how I ever got the money for such a fine fox stole I told her did she really want me to answer that, and she smiled and said no thanks.

Pierre I got a case of Perrier-Jouet champagne his favorite wine.

Serge I got a morocco bound vellum complete edition of the works of Pushkin his favorite poet, in the Russian language of course.

Well, I know they don’t allow you to have newspapers up there at Rozenwzweig’s but doubtless you have heard through the underworld grapevine about what happened to Tommy S------n. 

Poor chap they drilled him right as he was leaving the automat after his usual late-afternoon breakfast of creamed chipped beef on toast. How many times have I sat and had a cup of cocoa with poor Tommy at that selfsame automat these past weeks. Indeed he had almost become yet another sort of uncle to me and one might even say a mentor and I was sad to see him bumped off so young and in his prime. But what are you going to do, they say he had crossed Jimmy Mazzaro’s gang and you know how the Italian people are.

I know my dear the first thing you must be thinking is hey but wait a minute what about my gelt that Tommy had “out of the street”?

Well I don’t mind telling you Pippi that was if not the first then probably the second thing I thought when I saw all the cops ganged up around the automat as I was coming home from another dull day at Miss Churchill’s School and the bellboy Jake who was out there gawking with the rest of the rabble on the sidewalk instead of in the hotel doing his job told me that Tommy had in his words been “rubbed out”.

What indeed about all that gelt Tommy had out on the street for us?

At certain times one must not hesitate but take decisive action without dillydallying, as one of my heroes Napoleon might have said.

I think I told you that Tommy had been staying at the St Crispian these past several weeks in a suite right down the hall from ours. It turns out he had moved there precisely because he thought he would be safer from his enemies here than in his apartment above a certain dubious jazz joint on 52nd Street. Anyway, he had been living in this suite and once shortly before Christmas I stopped in there with him to pick up some ready cash from my street earnings for my Christmas shopping.

Tommy asked me to wait in his sitting room while he got my money from his bedroom  but you know me Pippi no flies on me ever so I silently crept over to his bedroom door and bent down to peek through the keyhole, and I plainly saw Tommy climb out one of his bedroom windows to the fire escape. Ah ha I thought, aren’t you the slyboots, Mr. Tommy Sullivan!

Quickly I decamped to the other side of the sitting room and pretended to peruse a racing form until Tommy came out with my dough. But let’s say I filed away this bit of knowledge I had just acquired for a rainy day and now as I saw all those cops and the ambulance men carting poor Tommy’s bullet-riddled body away I knew that rainy day had come. I speak figuratively of course it was not raining but in fact a light gentle snow had begun to fall.

Quickly and without another word I left that mob of rubberneckers and hurried to the Hotel and through the lobby and up in the elevator.

Getting off at our floor I headed toward our suite as usual until Mortimer the elevator operator had closed the elevator’s doors and then I quickly turned around and headed for Tommy’s suite.

I am sure you will not be surprised to read that getting into Tommy’s suite was a matter of mere seconds for me. I quietly closed the door behind me. Tommy had left the electric lights all burning, he was always that sort of fellow, devil may care. He had locked his bedroom door but that door of course was a snap to open also I didn’t even need to drag out my ring of keys, a simple hairpin did the trick.

Then it was across the room to the window. It was a little hard to open, I admit I don’t have the arms of Joe Louis, but after some huffing and groaning I got it up all right and scrambled out onto the fire escape into that gently falling snow where sure enough I soon found a metal strongbox attached very cleverly with magnets under the floor of the fire escape near the wall. It took all my strength to wrest that box away and I had to be very careful lest I should drop it to the alley below or even fall to my untimely death myself. But at last I succeeded.

I climbed back in through the window and laid the box on Tommy’s bed, that bed he would never sleep in again. Of course the box was locked, a combination padlock but please, it took me all of 45 seconds to spring it.

And what a nice Christmas present was inside.

Not only all of your gelt and all of mine but more, much more, I will not say how much here. I have decided to cut you in on ten percent of this extra gelt. Please don’t thank me you deserve it pining away there in the grimness of Rozenzweig’s Home for Girls. I’ll cut the rest of the gang in for another ten percent to split amongst themselves because a general takes good care of her troops if she wants respect and obedience and loyalty, or at least that’s the way I look at it.

I put all the gelt in my schoolbag and then closed up the strongbox, took it to the window and threw it down to the alley seven floors below, where after a few seconds I heard it clang with a merry ringing sound.

I closed the window and I was on my way out when I noticed Tommy’s cufflink box open there on his dresser. Well, Tommy wouldn’t be needing any of this folderol anymore, so I helped myself to some of the choicest bejeweled cufflinks and tie clasps, and I tossed these also into my school bag.

Finding nothing much else worth talking except for a pearl-handled snubnose .38 in the drawer of Tommy’s night table and a box of ammo both of which I also shoved into my now-bulging book bag I finally left the bedroom, locking the door behind me.

Then I tiptoed to the hallway door and listened with my ear to the door first, and then just opened the door a crack to make sure the coast was clear. It was, so I lammed it out of there, of course locking the door behind me and walked down the hall to our suite.

Auntie Margaret and Pierre and Serge were sitting playing poker when I came in.

“How was your day, darling?” said Auntie.

“Very good, Auntie,” I said and I went to my room.

So this was my best Christmas ever.

Again I hope your own Christmas was not too unbearable but at least now you are looking forward to a VERY TIDY “nest egg” waiting for you when you get sprung.

I remain,

as ever,

your faithful pal,


PS I have some new ideas on how to invest our money maybe safer than putting it “out on the street” but more on this later.


"to scale the ramparts of crime"

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