Sunday, June 29, 2014

"to scale the ramparts of crime"

a continuation of "the new canary"

by horace p sternwall

illustrated by eddie el greco and danny delacroix

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

part one of two

to begin the Gwendolyn stories, click here

december 30, 194-

dearest elizabeth,

i hope i find you well, and that you are enjoying your holiday back in "merrie england".

i picture you standing beside a "steaming punch bowl" (i confess i have never seen a "steaming punch bowl" and somehow they do not sound very enticing) as a "captain of the guards" with an upturned mustache regales you with a jolly tale of what befell him and his mates when they made a bayonet charge against the thuggee back in ranja-banga-folligoo-poo.

and you, being the well bred young lady you are, my dear, fairly swoon with excitement until great aunt cordelia arrives with the smelling salts.

meanwhile, the children - about twenty of them - are trooping and whooping around "the admiral" in his favorite old chair - and here comes cook with the stuffed goose (bleeah!) and the plum pudding (none for me, thank you).

all that is necessary to complete the scene is bob cratchit and tiny tim - as for me, i would instruct my servants not to let bob cratchit or tiny tim within a hundred yards of my residence, in town or country, at any time of the year, christmas or st swithins day.

well, my dear, you see what having dickens stuffed down our throats does to our brains…

seriously, whether you are enjoying yourself or not, i know you must be pining for news of the "gang", which is why i am writing this letter to begin with…

as we agreed before your departure, we are "laying low", both because of your absence and to let "the heat cool down" after our recent successes.

but i have been thinking - because for now i have nothing else to do ha ha - and i have decided that in a way we need to "lay" even more "low" - i e, change our modus operandi so as not to let ourselves become too predictable.

for we must always operate on the assumption that our adversaries are not totally stupid and will see a pattern if we do the same things the same way over and over.

yes, the washington square caper went splendidly (thanks largely to you, my dear) and the 80th street deal almost as well (though i was a teeny bit disappointed at the final reckoning after expenses) but now we must "throw a curve ball" lest some eagle eyed copper or private eye begin to "get our drift" and set a snare for us.

you may well ask, are there in fact any inspector lecoqs on the police force, or any sherlock holmeses or philo vances advising them, in "real life".

and i say, we have to act on the assumption that there are, so that we may stay one step ahead of them.

that is, if we truly want to scale the ramparts of crime, and attain the glory of a professor moriarty or a fantomas, or even a raffles or arsene lupin. and of course, make a pile of jack and live like princesses , which would only be fair in this dreary and treacherous world.

i see you raising your pale eyebrows and wondering what i am getting at.

what i am getting at is that i have decided we need one or two adult accomplices. that is, to play certain roles and "front" for us in certain situations. as brilliantly as you performed in washington square, and ruth and the monkey at 80th street, if we continue to act alone some lecoq or ellery queen will "rumble" to our "game".

of course when pippi finally gets sprung from the slammer we will have a formidable weapon . i keep forgetting that you only know pippi from my description and have never met her. her "sincerity" is truly awesome. i have still not figured out whether she really means it with her bible shouting and tambourine beating ways - maybe she does not know herself. in any case, she will definitely add a "wrinkle" to our game that the cops have not seen for a while (since i first teamed up with her).

as for the adult accomplices, i definitely - more than ever - do not want to bring auntie margaret or pierre or serge into our plans. i already have an unspoken agreement with auntie margaret that i will keep our enterprises separate from hers.

but even more than that, if auntie or pierre or serge got involved they would immediately want to take over and be the bosses - and who knows what cuts of the swag they would want.

no, what we want are some grown-ups who are just sharp enough that they can be of some use to us, but just soft and drippy enough that they won't try to take over and we can control them.

and wouldn't you know, fate has thrown just such a pair our way.

here is how it went down.

i invited ruth to dine with us in the hotel dining room a few evenings ago. pierre for some reason did not join us, so we were a party of only four - myself, ruth, auntie and serge.

the dining area as usual was not very crowded, and walter, the old waiter you may remember, was on duty and he always treats us right so we did not have to wait at all for him to take our orders.

though the dining area was not filled up, the bar and the small tables near the bandstand had noticeably more people than usual. i made some remark about this and serge informed us that the band had a new singer who was making her debut that evening.

as you know, the band at the hotel, and the sort of music they play, is very much something i - like you - can take or leave alone, as it seems to be there for the oldest residents like lord wolverington and miss charlton to weep into their martinis over. the singer who had been there since i can remember had a voice i could easily tune out, and i just hoped the new one would be no worse.

so, we ordered, and as i was just starting my beef wellington - tasty as the lobster thermidor is, i do not want to order it every time - when the lights dim, and the band leader -

tony something, a familiar figure with his hair parted in the middle and his little john barrymore mustache - comes out and begins his patter.

which nobody at our table pays any attention to, until suddenly there is a scream - something between a scream and a wail of despair - from one of the tables right in front of the band. and then a crash, as if somebody knocked over a table with bottles or glasses on it.

the band leader stops and the lights come back up, and walter and raoul the bartender and other people are gathering around the table, and a loud voice - it turns out to be mister nolan the detective - starts shouting - no points for originality here -

"is there a doctor in the house?"

at this serge puts down his fork, and gets up. now serge, although he is not a doctor, always claims he has plenty of "medical experience" which he gained in fleeing with his friends across the frozen siberian wastes one step ahead of the red army - or maybe it was the white army - stopping from time to time to engage in the most desperate battles with the aforesaid army or with roving bands of desperate bandits - you get the idea.

i followed serge over to the table. i always love a commotion, as one never knows what opportunities may present themselves during one - i am sure such a naturally sticky fingered person such as yourself knows what i mean.

mister nolan sees serge and myself approaching and as he is now our best friend, he straightens up and asks serge if he is a doctor.

and serge goes into his spiel how he picked up being a doctor of sorts "in the war".

and of course the magic phrase "in the war" works its magic spell and mister nolan steps aside and serge bends down and looks at the person on the floor who is -

mr sternhagen, a writer of sorts who lives in one of the cheap rooms on the second or third floor. now there are a lot of tiresome people in the hotel, and if there was a contest as to who was the most tiresome, old lord wolverington would win easily but mr sternhagen would be a candidate for second place.

and he does not seem to have much money. i say no more.

anyway, people are starting to drift away - because it is pretty obvious that mr sternhagen has just fainted and is alive - and mister nolan and raoul and walter set the knocked over table back up and now i notice this person who is still standing there and cussing away at the prostrate form of mister sternhagen to beat the band- really almost inventively, my dear, quite nasty even to my continentally traveled young ears - because she got a drink spilled on her dress.

and this is how i come to meet miss alice "sniffy" smith and her good friend, mister landon "rooster" crow.

whew! that is enough for now! this will fill up one air mail envelope. i will send another tomorrow.

as ever, my dear,

your most devoted friend,


part 2

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