Wednesday, December 3, 2014

"Secret Agent of the Overlords”

by Horace P. Sternwall

Originally published in “Science Crime Stories”, December, 1950; reprinted for the first time ever in book form in Elevator Operator: The “Mortimer” Stories of Horace P. Sternwall, Vol. 1, the Olney Community College Press; edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Assistant Professor of Demotic Literature, Olney Community College.
illustrated by eddie el greco and roy dismas

for previous Gwendolyn story, click here

to begin the Gwendolyn stories, click here

Now in my line of work I meet all kinds of people, all kinds, famous actresses like for instance Miss Hyacinth Wilde, international jewel thieves like my good friend Mr. Stanley Slade, big shot gangsters like the late Mr. Tommy Sullivan (another good friend of mine, and no matter what the papers said about him, he was always nice to me, and a real good tipper), and even some famous writers, like Fred Flynn or Harold P. Sternhagen, who both live at the hotel I work at (the Hotel St Crispian if you want to know), and this other famous writer named Horace P. Sternwall who don’t live at the hotel but he comes up every Monday night to play cards with Mr. Flynn and Mr. Sternhagen and the play writer Mr. Angus Strongbow, and Mr. Sternwall he always tells me I should be a writer on account of I tell so many interesting stories in the elevator. He says I got a real knack for it, specially because I got to tell the stories real quick on account of the longest elevator ride we got is only twelve stories. So anyways, I decided, how hard can it be? Writing a story is just like telling a story except instead of telling it to somebody you’re writing it down, right? And I may not have much of an education, but I do know how to write. And working at the hotel all these years, believe you me I got a million stories.

I figure if I can sell some of them to the magazines then maybe I can buy my mom a new Frigidaire, on account of we’re the only people in the building still got an old-fashioned ice box. So I went to Pop Greenwald’s store on the corner of Bleecker and the Bowery just across the street from where me and my mom live and I bought one of them back-and-white marble copy books and a pencil and I started to write.

Here’s one good story and I swear it’s true. I ain’t making nothing up. Way I figure it, people want to read true stories. Because anybody can make up a story. If people wanted to read made up stories they could just make them up themselves and not have to buy a magazine to read it. At least that’s how I figure it.

Where was I.

Oh, right, my story.

Here goes.

There’s this little girl lives at the hotel, really polite and well-spoken little girl named Gwendolyn. She lives in one of them really nice suites on the seventh floor with her Auntie Margaret, a really nice pretty lady, and in the adjoining suite live her auntie’s two friends, Mr. Pierre and Mr. Serge. I was never quite sure but I always figured Mr. Pierre and Mr. Serge were like business partners of Miss Margaret, although I wasn’t really clear on what their business is. But I figured they must make pretty good gelt at it because they all sleep pretty late every day.

Except for Miss Gwendolyn who gets up bright and early at least on weekdays and goes to the Miss Churchill School for Young Ladies down the street. But Saturdays and Sundays and holidays, forget it, little Miss Gwendolyn she don’t roll out of the sack neither before noon at the earliest. And another way I know they ain’t hurting for dough is, this crew, they take just about all their meals either in the Prince Hal Room at the hotel or at other fancy restaurants around town, like 21 or the Stork Club or Toots Shor’s or the Rainbow Room, I know because I ask them when they’re riding down in my car and that’s what they tell me, they ain’t shy. Sometimes Mr. Serge cooks though, I know that, and Mr. Pierre, too. I know this because I got to talking to Mr. Serge one time and I mentioned my mom liked a good bowl of borscht now and then, and the next night he gave me a big half-gallon jar of borscht he had made hisself and told me to take it home to my mom with his compliments.

Then another time I told Mr. Pierre that I really liked a good hot grilled ham and cheese sandwich – hey, that’s just me, some people don’t like them but I do – it’s a free country, right? And wouldn’t you know it, one nightshift I was just about to get off at six a.m. when I get the buzz to go up to the seventh floor and I opened the door and there’s Mr. Pierre, wearing his smoking jacket and ascot and he hands me this big loaf of bread wrapped in warm tin foil.

“Here ya go, Mortimer,” he says, “wrap your gums around this baby. It’s what we call in my country a Croak Missouri,” or at least that’s what I thought he said.

Boy was that Croak Missouri good. I ate the whole thing back in the employee dressing room, sitting on the bench next to my locker. Thought I’d just eat half and maybe save the rest for later but I just ate the whole thing right there it was so good.

Miss Margaret never gave me no food she cooked herself, but I think that’s only because she don’t know how to cook. You see, one thing I have learned about rich ladies, they ain’t like regular ladies. They don’t cook. I ain’t sure why they don’t cook, but I think it’s because it just ain’t something rich ladies do. It ain’t their fault. Everybody’s got some things in life they’re supposed to do, and they also got things they ain’t supposed to do. Nobody knows why this is, but I think it’s just because that’s what the Overlords of the Universe want.

And you don’t question them Overlords of the Universe. I learned this on account of a story Mr. Flynn wrote in Space Adventure Stories, which he loaned me to read one time on my break. The story was called “Overlords of the Universe”, and it explains the whole deal, and once you read it then a lot of things about the world that don’t make too much sense start to make sense.

Where was I.

I know I had a story, but I got sidetracked.

Oh, right, now I remember, it was about this little Miss Gwendolyn. She never gave me no food she cooked neither, but that’s okay, because after all she’s just a little girl, and little girls don’t cook, so I ain’t holding that against her, especially because she gave me something else. Something everybody can use. She gave me money.

This is how it happened. One night I’m working the late shift and around 4am the buzzer goes off for the seventh floor. So I takes the car up and who should be standing there to my surprise but this little girl Miss Gwendolyn, wearing her little blue coat and one of them little round flat hats that ladies and French guys in movies wear. 

She gives me the shoosh sign and steps in the car, and I am so like taken aback I shut the door, and I’m just about to start the car down when I stops and says, “Hey, Missy Gwendolyn, what’re you doing, going out at 4am in the morning, a little girl like you.”

“I am twelve years of age,” she says. “That’s not a little girl.”

“Well,” I says, “maybe not a real little girl, but still and all, shouldn’t you be home in bed at this hour?”

“Mortimer,” she says, “please just take me down to the basement and keep it on the QT, and there’s a buck in it for you.”

“To the basement?” I says. “What the heck you want to go to the basement for? None of the guests ever go to the basement, and besides, it’s dark and scary down there. I really don’t think I should take you down there, Missy Gwendolyn.”

At first I thought she was gonna take a swing at me with this hard little black purse of hers, but then she kind of took a deep breath and then looked both to the right and to the left like to make sure nobody was listening, even though we was the only two people in the car. Then she looks up at me, real serious like.

“Listen, Mortimer,” she says, “you remember what you were telling me about the Overlords of the Universe?”

“Sure,” I said. On account of I talk to lots of people about the Overlords of the Universe. I find that kind of stuff interesting, and you’d be surprised how many people still don’t know about the Overlords.

“Okay, Mortimer,” she says, “I’m gonna tell you something, but if I do you got to cross your heart and hope to die you don’t tell nobody else, and also there’s a fin in it for you in the bargain.”

And sure enough she opens up this little black shiny purse of hers and pulls out a five-spot. But she don’t give it to me yet.

“Here’s the dope,” she says. “My Auntie Margaret, and Mr. Pierre and Serge, and me,” she says, “we work for the Overlords of the Universe. We are their representatives in New York. Now sometimes my duties will demand that I leave the hotel through the basement at what might seem to you simple humans as odd hours. But I am really on secret missions for the Overlords.”

“So that explains it,” I says. “Your Auntie Margaret, and Mr. Pierre and Mr. Serge. How come they don’t work and they keep such late hours.”

“Exactly,” she says. “Now, how would you like to be a special secret agent for the Overlords, Mortimer?”

“Gee, I don’t know,” I says. “What I gotta do?”

“Here’s how it’ll work,” she says. “Every once in a while I may ask a slight favor of you. Like maybe go down the basement yourself and open the alley door at a certain time and one of my associates who also works for the Overlords will give you a package or maybe an envelope or something, and you’ll bring it up to me without nobody seeing you. And each and every time you perform one of these secret missions I give you another five-spot.”

“Another five-spot?” I says. “Like, every time?” 

“Yeah,” she says. “Except you gotta keep it all on the QT. Don’t tell nobody.”

“Not nobody?” I says.

“Not nobody,” she says. “Not your mother, not the police, not J. Edgar Hoover, not nobody.”

“And I get five bucks every time?” I says.

“Every mission you complete,” she says. “Five smackers.”

“Jeeze,” I says. “Five smackers! That’s like very generous.”

“The Overlords are very generous people,” she says, and she sticks this five-dollar bill into my paw, and then she folds my fingers over it. “So,” she says, “will you please take me down to the basement now. I will leave through the alley door, and be gone maybe ten minutes, then I want you to take the car back down to the basement and take me back up to my floor.”

What could I say? Who was I to go against the will of the Overlords of the Universe, and besides, a five-spot in the hand is better than a kick to the head if you ask me.

So I did what she told me, and I been doing what she told me ever since. 


Well, that’s my story. I told Mr. Sternwall about it and he said it sounded pretty good, and if I would give him the copybook he would fix the spelling and punctuation for me and type it up and try to sell it to one of them magazines for me and split the money with me. He told me it would be best if he put his name on it because it wouldn’t do to let the whole reading public know that I am a secret agent of the Overlords of the Universe. He said he would split whatever the magazine paid him with me, fifty-fifty, and I said sure, especially since he would be doing all the typing and fixing the spelling and all and making sure the commas and the punctuation is right. It seems like to me that anybody can tell a story, especially if it’s true, but the spelling and them periods and commas, that’s the hard part. When I asked him how much we would get paid for the story he said he could probably get at least twenty bucks, which means a sawbuck for yours truly, and a sawbuck’s better than two kicks to the head.

I figure if I can knock out a few more of these stories, what with my regular elevator operator pay and the money I’m pulling in on the side as a secret agent of the Overlords, I can get my mom that Frigidaire for Christmas, and who knows, maybe next year even one of them television sets.


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