Wednesday, July 30, 2014

"Mrs. Big"

by Horace P. Sternwall

Originally published in “Chilling Crime Tales”, December, 1950; republished for the first time in book form in “Mr. and Mrs. Big”: The “Gwendolyn and Auntie Margaret” Stories of Horace P. Sternwall, Vol. 8, the Olney Community College Press; edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Associate Professor of Hardboiled Literature, Olney Community College.

illustrated by roy dismas and eddie el greco

for previous Gwendolyn story, click here

to begin the Gwendolyn stories, click here

“Baccini speaking.”

“Would this be Mr. Bartolomeo ‘Big Bart’ Baccini speaking?”

“Yeah. Who wants to know?”

“You don’t know me, Mr. Baccini, but I have a proposition for you which may be to our mutual benefit.”

“Who the hell is this?”

“As I say, I am no one you know.”

“You got a name?”

“A name. I am afraid I would prefer not to give you my name, Mr. Baccini.”

“You got a proposition for me but you don’t want to give me your name.”

“That is correct, Mr. Baccini.”

“Then what I’m supposed to call you, sister?”

“Call me – Mrs. Big.”

“Mrs. Big.”

“You wanted a name, I gave you one.”

“All right, ‘Mrs. Big’, give me one good reason why I shouldn’t hang up on you right now, on account of I am a very busy man.”

“You should not hang up on me because it was my gang who rubbed out Jimmy Mazzaro and his four top boys.”

There was a silence on the other end of the line, and Gwendolyn used this pause to take a sip of her hot cocoa and gaze through the glass door of the phone booth out at the crowded vaulted expanse of Grand Central Station.

Then Baccini’s voice came through the line again.

“Nobody ‘rubbed out’ Jimmy and his boys. It was a gas explosion from a faulty stove.”

“So the official report said,” said Gwendolyn in her husky “grown-up” voice, modeled after that of her Auntie Margaret, and speaking through the lace handkerchief Auntie Margaret had got her just this past Christmas, with her initial “G” in red and gold embroidery. “I wonder how much it cost you, Mr. Baccini, to have Jimmy’s death and that of his four goons declared an ‘accident’?”

Another pause, and Gwendolyn took another sip of her hot cocoa from its paper cup. it was nice cocoa, but not as nice as Schrafft’s cocoa.

Then Baccini’s voice spoke again.

“Okay, sister, who you working for?”

“Who am I working for? What makes you think I am working for anyone?”

“Because you’re a dame, and you sound like a young dame. Come on, ‘Mrs. Big’, who is your Mr. Big?”

“Do you really think I’m going to tell you my real name? Or the name of my ‘Mr. Big’, even if there were a Mr. Big? After I just told you it was my gang that turned Jimmy Mazzaro and his boys into so many human Roman candles?”

“Are you with Maxie Goldenberg’s crew?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know?”

“You’re with the West Side Boys then, right? Jackie O’Hara’s mob?”

“Do I sound Irish?”

“Wait – is this the Five Points Gang?”

“You can keep naming colorful names all night, and my answer will be the same, Mr. Baccini. As far as you’re concerned I am Mrs. Big.”

Again a pause. 

Gwendolyn heard Baccini say something to someone on the other end. Was he arranging to have the call traced, through his contacts on the police force or at the telephone company?

Go ahead, Mr. Baccini, because how many dozens of phone booths were being used this very moment in this enormous station, and who would ever suspect the twelve-year-old blonde girl, probably calling home to her mother saying she had just missed her train after her ballet class but would surely catch the next one?

And then Baccini’s voice came through the receiver again.

“Was this because of that Tommy Sullivan business? Was it? Because I had nothing to do with that. I told Jimmy to lay off Tommy.

In no uncertain terms I told him he was to lay off Tommy on account of we had had a long-standing arrangement with that Irish son of a bitch, you should pardon my French, but it’s the truth. So if that’s why you took Jimmy out, that was between him and you. Far as I am concerned the matter is settled with Jimmy’s, uh, accidental death.”

“I am glad you feel that way, Mr. Baccini.”

“Good, so goodbye, Mrs. Big, and good luck in all your future endeavours.”

“But you haven’t heard my proposition,” said Gwendolyn.

“Your proposition,” said Baccini.

“Yes,” said Gwendolyn. “May I continue?”

There was another pause, and then Baccini spoke:

“Go ahead, Mrs. Big. I am listening.”


Gwendolyn came out of the phone booth. The gang were all there: Elizabeth and Ruth, Sluggo and the Monkey.

“Twig anything funny while I was on the phone?” Gwendolyn asked. “No suspicious characters? No cops?

“Nah, we kept a good eye out,” said the Monkey. “Nuttin’.”

“Good,” said Gwendolyn. “And now – how do milkshakes and cakes at Schrafft’s sound? On me.”

“Sounds great!” said Sluggo.

“But, Gwendolyn dear,” said Elizabeth. “You must tell us. How did it go with this Baccini fellow?”

“He turned out to be fairly reasonable, for an Italian,” said Gwendolyn. “The upshot is the tea trade in the Village and the Bowery is ours. His crew will take over Jimmy Mazzaro’s territory in Little Italy and points south.”

“Do you trust him?” said Ruth.

Gwendolyn drank the last bit of her cocoa, crumpled up the cup, and tossed it into a waste basket.

“A better question, Ruth, might be: can Big Bart Baccini trust us?”

The gang laughed as one at Gwendolyn’s bon mot. 

Then they headed off to Schrafft’s for delicious milkshakes and cakes. 


"The New Mob"

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

"neighbors" - conclusion

by fred flynn

illustrated by konrad kraus and eddie el greco

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

part two of two

click here for part one

nora laughed nervously. "you mean you are a martian?"

"not exactly."

nora realized that she didn't have as much of a sense of humor as a lot of people, but being a naturally polite person, she usually tried to smile or laugh when someone said something that was supposed to be funny.

but although she was pretty mild-mannered, she could get really mad if she thought anybody was trying to make fun of her!

but this man with the greenish face, who seemed so nice - whose niceness almost seemed to envelop her like a cloud and soothe her weary soul - surely he was not making fun of her by saying - sort of - that he was a martian?

no, it was just a little joke, meant to put her at her ease. because he was so nice.

and she was at her ease - very much so.

suddenly nora realized she was staring at the man!

"i'll get you that coke," she mumbled, and turned to go into the kitchenette.

the man smiled at her, apparently quite at ease in the uncomfortable chair beside the radio.

there was a half empty bottle of coca-cola in the refrigerator. it was probably flat. nora decided to pour it for herself, and open a new bottle for the - nice man.

she caught herself thinking of him as "the martian". ha ha!

she wondered if he was using mind control on her. but that was just silly.

she came out of the kitchenette - glancing at the door to the children's room to make sure it was closed tight - and smiled at the man and handed him his glass of coke.

gosh, it wasn't even cold!

and she didn't have a nice table for him to put the glass on. he had to hold it on his knee.

how she wished she could afford nice things!

"you wish you could afford nice things, don't you, nora?" the man asked.

nora almost spilled her own glass of coke in her lap. had she told him her name?

"no, nora," the man smiled. "you didn't tell me your name."

nora just stared at him.

"but i haven't told you my name," the man said.

"you can read my mind," nora interrupted him. which was sort of rude, but her head was spinning.

"not exactly."

"just like you are not exactly a martian."

"exactly. or not exactly. ha ha! " the man smiled again with his perfect teeth. "it all amounts to the same thing." he took a sip of his glass of coca-cola. and smiled again, at least pretending to enjoy it.

"do you know everything about me?" nora asked.

"not - ha ha! i know the most important thing about you, nora."

"and what's that?"

"that you are a dreamer."

nora blushed slightly. "how do you know that?'

"that's an easy one. you are a human, and all humans are dreamers."

"oh. so i guess i am just like everybody else."

"oh no, nora, you are special. that is why i came here to see you. you, and not any of the people next door."

"um - i don't really know the people next door."

"oh, you know them better than you think. but i still haven't introduced myself. my name, for your purposes - "

for my purposes, nora wondered, what does that mean? but she didn't say anything.

" - my name is walter."

"hello, walter."

"you were probably expecting something like mar-del-kor-thalm, that you couldn't remember."

"walter is easy to remember. i had a cousin named walter. "

"there you go. and i represent an organization that for your purposes we will call the interdimensional federation - i f for short. i f - that's easy to remember, isn't it?"

"i guess so."

"tell me, nora, how would you like to make twenty dollars a month?"

twenty dollars a month! now walter had nora's attention. all this stuff about reading her mind and being a martian and the interdimensional whatever was one thing, but twenty dollars a month!

"i could use twenty dollars a month," nora heard herself say. i could use five dollars a month, she thought, but did not say it out loud.

"i thought so." walter reached into his jacket pocket and took out a small rectangular object. looking at it across the room nora thought it looked like the kind of small box that would hold wooden matches.

"can you keep a secret, nora?"

"keep a secret? i don't have much time to myself. i - i have four children. and a husband who - who - uh - "


"always wants to know what i'm doing."

walter nodded. "but i think you can keep a secret, nora. do you know why?"


"because you're a human. and do you what humans are, besides dreamers?"

"what?" nice as he was, walter was sort of like jack, nora thought - thinking he was going to continually amaze you with his brilliant thoughts.

"humans are adaptable. so even though it might seem unusual for you to be working for the federation and you could not imagine such a thing just an hour ago you are a human and you will adapt."

"you think so?" yes, for twenty dollars a month, nora thought.

"take yourself. look how you have already adapted in your life. you were just an innocent girl in school hanging out at the malt shoppe, and then you went to war."

"i didn't exactly go to war. i worked in a factory that made canteens for the soldiers."

"yes, but these dogfaces never could have slogged their way through hell without the nice canteens you made for them. and then, even in the factory you were still a girl and then you woke up one day and you were married and had four children. what is working for the interdimensional federation compared to that?"

" not much, i guess."

"you can do it, nora." walter put his glass of coke on top of the radio and stood up, with the little rectangular object in his hand. "now here is what i want you to do…"

and that is how nora came to sell out the human race and become an agent of the interdimensional federation.

how many other noras are there out there, behind closed doors, behind high walls, on lonely highways and deserted landscapes, selling out the human race - and maybe more than just the human race - to what unnamable and unimaginable forces?

you see, now, what can happen when you don't know who your neighbors are?

reader, do you judge nora? would you do the same, for twenty dollars a month? maybe you belong to a better class of people and would only do it for a few hundred a month, or a few thousand?

or maybe you are sincerely horrified by these revelations. if you are, all i can say is - be on your guard!

keep an eye on your neighbors, such as they are, and on the people you pass on the streets, or in the aisles of the new supermarkets that are springing up all over the country and replacing the old general stores and grocery stores where everybody knew everybody else, and be alert!

i wish i could be more helpful and tell you where to report your findings, but if you go to the police or the f b i, how do you know they are not also in league with the unnamable forces themselves?

how do you know?

and - watch the skies!


james, the day desk clerk, watched fred flynn come out of the elevator and cross the lobby of the hotel st crispian.

"good morning, james."

"um - good afternoon, mister flynn."

"yes, it is afternoon, isn't it? so the mail must have come."

"indeed it has." james turned and retrieved a letter and a large manila envelope and handed them to fred. "here you go."

"thank you." fred looked at the letter - from his brother on rikers island. no rush to read that. the manila envelope was the one he had used to send a couple of stories to al johnson at smashing wonder tales. he balanced it in his hand - maybe al had not sent both stories back?

fred took a seat in the nearest chair in the lobby and opened the envelope. it contained one of the stories he had sent - "neighbors" and a note from al johnson.

dear fred,

thanks for the space dog simms story. i will use it for the cover story in march-april. as for this thing - what have i been trying to tell you? what is this supposed to be? olaf stapledon? or something a twelve year old kid would write? like a lot of what you have been sending, it's not smart enough and it's not dumb enough. i am your pal, if i knew anybody else who might take it i'd let you know, but i don't.

more space dog simms stories, please! we both have to eat.

and drink. drop by sometime, and i will buy you one.


your best friend in the world,

al johnson

"bad news, flynn?"

fred looked up. "farmer" brown was standing there, in his usual pose with his thumbs in his lapels.

"you look like your dog died, ha ha," the farmer guffawed.

"no, it's nothing." fred rubbed his eyes. "i was just going to get a cup of coffee."

"how about a little hair of the dog?"

"sure, why not?"


Wednesday, July 16, 2014


by fred flynn

illustrated by konrad kraus and danny delacroix

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

part one of two


it's a funny word, neighbors.

ever think about it?

remember how things used to be, back before everything changed?

back when you lived in centerville, or thomasville, or millerville?

you knew who the neighbors were, and they knew you.

the neighbor was mrs van schwort, who watched the street all day but only went out once a week to go to mr watson's store.

or the neighbors were the smith family, who had five kids just like your own, including jimmy smith, who you played catch with, and his little brother kenny, who followed you all over town.

or the neighbor was stuck up mary fenderson, who always raised her hand in class, and knew all the answers.

and you know, if you lived in a big city like chicago or st louis, things were pretty much the same, in some neighborhood like irish town, or polack town, or wop town, because you sat on the front steps and watched the world go by, and everybody knew everybody else.

and it was the same, even if you lived in a tribe in the amazon jungle, or in the kalahari desert, or the hills of borneo, or the steppes of central asia.

you knew who you were, and who everybody else was.

some say the change started with henry ford, or with william randolph hearst.

or maybe it was hitler, or roosevelt, or al capone or amelia earhart.

whoever or whatever it was, things are different now.

now you live in apartment 17-c, and when you get home from a long day at the office doing things you could never explain to anybody who didn't work in the same office, you pass the doors of apartment 13-c and 14-c and 15-c and 16-c, but you don't know who is behind them, do you?

yes, if you pause there in the corridor, maybe you can hear something from behind the doors, but what?

can you tell if it is people talking, or the radio, or maybe one of those new television sets ?

pretty soon everyone is going to have a television, you know that, don't you?

and you think you will be watching it, but how do you know it won't be watching you?

do you ever wonder what is going on behind those doors?

the doors of your "neighbors" ?

come on, let's look behind one.

we can hear sounds coming from 20-c, we will look behind that one.


nora had had enough , she had to call jack.

"operator, give me central. 8 - 6753"

"hello, ray?"

"no, jack, it's nora. i just had to call you -"

"nora, i told you never to call me at the office! i'm expecting an important call."

"but, jack, it's timmy -"


"he's the next to youngest one, not counting -"

"i don't care who he is , don't be calling me!"

"he fell down and broke his - "

"did you get him to a doctor?"

"yes, he's in the hospital, but bobby - "

"then what is the problem? i'm going to hang up now, nora."

"jack, please -"

"how many times do i have to tell you, i'm dealing every day with people who are trying to destroy me? people who can have me killed ? if you can't handle these things yourself, nora, why do you think i married you in the first place?"

"i'm sorry, jack - "

"have my belt ready when i get home. the narrow one, with the sharp edges."


nora put the phone down in its cradle.

she looked over at bobby, the oldest of her four children, who was lying on the couch with a thermometer in his mouth, reading a green lantern comic book.

when bobby realized nora was looking at him, he took the thermometer out of his mouth and looked at it.

"i'm feeling better."

"good." nora went over and sat down slowly on the chair beside the big radio. the fifth child which was due in four weeks settled in her lap and she looked longingly at the couch bobby was sprawled on.

"maybe you can still go to school. that way, you'll only miss half a day."

"i don't feel that good." bobby turned the page of the comic book.

i need to rest a bit before i make lunch, nora thought. "i think i'll go lie down, " she said. i should check on joyce first, she thought, she is awfully quiet, she must be into something.

bobby didn't answer, and nora started to get up.

suddenly there was a knock in the door.

who can that be, nora wondered. the neighbors never called, and salesmen hardly ever came into the building. mister nabonski, whom the children called mister nasty, usually caught them and threw them out, especially before they got to the fourth floor.

nora got up and opened the door.

a man was standing there.

nora thought he was the nicest looking man she had ever seen.

even though he had a slightly greenish tinge to his pale face.

his gray suit fitted him perfectly, and his red and blue tie was precisely knotted. the gray fedora which he took off and held in his hand when he bowed slightly to her looked brand new.

his hair was nicely combed and parted on the side, and he was perfectly clean shaven without a hint of stubble, which jack almost never was.

and when he smiled at her, his teeth were even and pearly white.

"good afternoon, madam."

"i'm sorry, if you are selling something - "

the man continued to smile at her.

"my husband handles all the money, so, so i can't buy anything even if - even if i wanted to - "

"i am not selling anything, madam. i have a proposition for you. a business proposition."

"i am just a housewife. i don't know anything about business."

"please. may i come in? i won't take much of your time."

nora knew it was wrong, but she felt an overwhelming urge to talk to the nice man, just to be able to talk to somebody.

"all right," she said. "but just for a minute."

nora turned to bobby, who was looking at the man with a perplexed expression.

"go to your room, bobby. let this gentleman sit on the couch."

"joyce is in there." the four children shared one bedroom.

"good. you can keep an eye on her."

bobby didn't move. "i don't think dad would -"

"don't you be telling me what dad would do - go to your room! right now!"

bobby slowly got off the couch. "i'm still sick, you know. i might give joyce my germs."

"go - to - your - room."

"all right, i'm going." bobby looked at the man in the gray suit as he headed for the children's room. "he looks like a martian."

nora pretended to laugh at this . she wanted to tell bobby not to be listening at the door but that might just give him ideas.

nora smiled at the man when the door closed behind bobby. "kids these days -"

"yes, i know."

"would you like a glass of coca cola? i don't think i have any ice."

"that would be nice, thank you. i prefer it without ice."

"won't you sit here." nora indicated the couch.

but he sat down on the chair beside the radio. he smiled at nora. "thank you, but i think in your condition you should sit on the couch."

what a gentleman!

nora smiled at him. "bobby has a vivid imagination. probably from reading all those comic books."

the man laughed, showing his perfect white teeth. "you mean calling me a martian? well you know, he was not that far off."

nora smiled nervously. "you mean you are a martian?"

"not exactly."

part 2 - conclusion