“close enough. and headed that way.” donnelly began making a u-turn on third avenue as he spoke.
“call from east 86th and madison. suspicious character in the area.”
“that’s it?” donnelly straightened out on third avenue and headed north. “did this personage actually do anything suspicious?”
“he aroused a citizen’s suspicions. a rich dame. just get on it.”
“a rich dame? young or old?”
“what do you care? we serve all citizens. young or old, rich or poor.”
donnelly was approaching east 83d street. “right. this rich dame, does she have an address? or a name? do you want me to reassure her if i don’t find anything?”
“her name is collinson. she’s really rich, we’ve dealt with her before. don’t you deal with her, unless the guy is actually breaking into her house. number 17. call me, if you find anything, or if you don’t find anything. got it?”
the conversation was over. donnelly turned left on 83rd street.
collinson. patrolman ignatius donnelly thought he recognized the name. and suspected he knew why the police had dealt with miss collinson before.
he knew there was a collinson art gallery on 84th street. art galleries were always complaining about suspicious characters and lowlifes hanging around their premises
donnelly thought he knew a thing or two about art and still had some interest in it. in his younger days he had aspired to be an artist instead of a useful member of society, and he had studied art on the g i bill before being forced to support himself by joining new york’s finest.
he reached madison and turned north again.
he slowed down at 86th street. there was a light on on the third floor of a building on the northwest corner. he turned left and and read the number - 17.
nobody hanging around right under the streetlights. donnelly slowed the car down to walking speed.
he crawled down 86th toward 5th avenue and central park. nobody, suspicious or otherwise.
ah - there was somebody. on the right side of the street, staying close to the buildings.
donnelly pulled up beside the walking man. a skinny little guy, in a hat a size too big for him and an overcoat a size too small.
the guy knew enough not to try to ignore him. donnelly got out of the car.
“good evening, officer. or should i say good morning?” despite the crummy clothes, a “cultured” voice. and the guy didn’t sound nervous. like he was used to being stopped by the police, or he naturally felt the police were there to serve him, or maybe some combination of both.
donnely approached him, and thought he recognized him. maybe it was just because he had been reminded of art school … but, no, he did know him.
“spence. spencer sinclair spence. the third or the fourth, i can’t remember which.”
the little man started. “do i know you, officer? you … obviously know me.”
“ignatius donnelly. from mother silver’s art classes. on thirteenth street.”
“donnelly! i never… never would have recognized you. you are … um…”
“all grown up.”
“ha, ha, all grown up. i think i recall someone mentioning you had … joined the force. is that a correct expression - ‘joined the force’?
“correct enough, spence.”
spence laughed, a laugh just short of a giggle. “i recall you had a nickname… can’t quite remember it…”
“it’s best forgotten,” donnelly told him. “but it was scarface.”
“of course. scarface donnelly! how could i forget?” suddenly spence stopped laughing. “well, what can i do for this morning, officer donnelly.”
donnelly looked back up the street. “we got a call about a suspicious character. from a woman named collinson. i don’t really know, but it might be a collinson connected with the collinson art gallery. “ he turned and faced spence. “know anything about it?”
spence hesitated. “well, i have to admit i was … what you might call ‘hanging around’ the townhouse on the corner back there. but i didn’t know who lived there. i was waiting for someone who had gone in there … a fellow who owes me some money.”
donnelly let spence’s story hang in the air for a few seconds. “so you were the suspicious character.”
“no, no. do i look like a suspicious - or dangerous - character?”
“maybe not to me. maybe to a woman looking out a window at night.”
“no, no, you see… i saw a nasty looking character myself. that was why i gave up my vigil.”
“waiting for this fellow who owes me money. look, we can go back there. he is probably still there and you can verify that he does owe me money. it is actually somebody we both know quite well.”
“palomine! that jerk!” donnelly looked back toward the townhouse.
spence laughed nervously. “yes, palomine. he has certainly left us both in the dust, hasn’t he? fame-wise, anyway.”
“and he owes you money, spence? what great sum does he owe you, that you are going to follow him and beat him up or kill him for it?”
“ha. ha! who said anything about beating him up or killing him? but i was determined to confront him.”
“and how much money was this about?”
“you needn’t laugh, donnelly. i am sure you can tell to look at me that… that my ships have not been coming in with any regularity. fifteen dollars would mean a lot to me right now.”
“hey, i would pick fifteen dollars up myself if it was lying in the street. so why did you leave? because you saw me coming?”
“i told you. this really scary looking bruiser showed up, on the other corner. maybe he was waiting for palomine too. anyway i got cold feet and left.”
donnelly thought for a few seconds. “tell you what, spence. why don’t you get in the car? we will drive around a little, see if we can spot this desperado. then we’ll take it from there.”
spence’s shoulders slumped. “i don’t suppose i have much choice.”
“no, you do not. listen, if all goes well maybe i will end up buying you a cup of coffee and we can talk about old times. how does that sound?"
and so the digging of the mine, to unearth the golden pearl at the center of the earth, continued apace.
and all the other preparations for the celebration of the emperor armon-mu’s one hundredth birthday continued apace.
for almost two years, no clouds of discord appeared on the vast blue horizons of the empire.
even the weather conspired to advance the general felicity, and exceptional grape harvests provided a seemingly inexhaustible flow of wine to heighten the general glow of anticipated celebration.
in the midst of all this, a series of events transpired, hardly noticed at the time, but which will have great effects on our story.
among the many princelings born to the many wives of the emperor was a certain prince joto, a youth who seemed to have nought to attract notice, except the fortunate circumstance of his birth.
it had long been the imperial custom to assign the lesser princesses and princes to marry the sons and daughters of the myriad little kings and princes and chieftains whose tiny domains were interspersed among the vast reaches of the empire.
a clerk in the imperial bureaucracy assigned prince joto to marry one of the daughters of gow, a chieftain in a remote mountain kingdom on the northern borders of gondwana.
prince joto rebelled. the thought of a life in a mountain kingdom did not appeal to him, and he was in love with a young woman who called hersellf green star and who danced and juggled in a traveling circus.
joto declared his love for the young woman, and wrote a note to the clerk informing him that he, joto, intended to marry green star and ignore the imperial edict.
the clerk ignored this and wrote back to joto giving the details of his itinerary to the mountain kingdom.
joto appealed to the lord high chamberlain and various other functionaries - there was no question of his appealing to the emperor, who was not aware of his existence - but all his entreaties, whether in the language of passion or the language of the courts, were ignored.
eventually, a retinue of imperial guards appeared at joto’s chambers. the sergeant in charge informed the young prince that they were there to escort him - either to the mountain kingdom to embrace his assigned wife, or to the imperial mines, where he could expend his body and soul in the unearthing of the golden pearl - the golden pearl of armon-mu.
it was his choice.
joto did not hesitate, and after a last passionate embrace with the beauteous green star, was led away to the mines.
this event aroused little interest among the busy citizenry of atlantis. a few minstrels composed songs about the sad affair, but among the few who listened to them, most thought a mythical romance was being celebrated.
and so it came about that prince joto was laboring in the deepest level of the mine when the cataclysm struck that marked the beginning of the end of the mighty empire.
at this point, pete’s recital was interrupted by williams, the butler.
“excuse, me, miss. and mister palomine.”
cosima, who had looked neither enraptured nor obviously bored by pete’s story, looked up. “what is it, williams?”
“i am sorry to interrupt, miss, but i have noticed rather a suspicious looking individual lurking outside.”
“oh? are there not always suspicious characters outside? it’s probably just one of conrad’s lowlife friends. getting up his nerve to ring the bell and put the touch on him.”
“if you will trust my judgment, miss, this fellow looks like a bit more than that. for one thing, he does not, shall we say, give off an air of indecision. and he keeps moving about, not waiting in one spot as he would be if he were waiting for someone to pick him up. always a bad sign.”
“you know i trust your judgment, williams. what do you think, pete? sound like anybody you know?”
pete had turned a little pale. “um - i - i don’t think so.”
“you don’t think so?” cosima drawled. “how about getting up and taking a look at this mystery man?”
“no need for that,” williams offered. “i can step outside and tell him to be on his way.”
“no, no! “ pete cried. “you don’t want to do that!”
cosima laughed. “so you do know who it is. don’t worry, pete. you are safe with us.”
williams turned to go, but cosima stopped him. “don’t you go, williams. i will just call the police.” she got up and went over to a telephone on a small table in a corner.
pete did not look too happy, but cosima assured him, “don’t worry, i am a collinson, the police will at least humor me.”
she dialed. “hello. police headquarters? no, it’s not exactly an emergency, but my name is cosima collinson and i live on east 86th street and i would like to speak to someone. thank you.”
after a few seconds. “yes, officer. there is a shady character lurking outside my apartments. on 505 east 86th, just off madison. it is probably nothing, but i have a guest who is a bit nervous about it… thank you so much. thank you. i believe the policeman’s ball is coming up… put me down for forty tickets. that’s c-o-s-i-m-a collinson. thank you again. good bye.”
cosima put the phone back down on the little table, and looked at pete. “that was not so difficult, was it? if you are still a little nervous, you can stay the night. williams, get the guest room ready for mister palomine, will you?”
“very good, miss.” williams slipped away.
“you still want to go on with your story?” cosima asked.
“why not?” pete managed a brave smile.
“why not, indeed? why don’t we freshen our drinks first?”
the empire of atlantis, under the great emperor armon-mu, covered the earth.
its erstwhile rivals, the empires of mu and gondwana, had vanished like a pair of ocean breezes, leaving the red and gold flags of atlantis flying over the tallest mountains, and on the rockiest inlets of distant islands.
in his youth armon-mu had mastered the arts of war, and in his long reign he sought to master those of peace, so as to leave a perfect world of harmonious felicity to his successors.
philosophers, sages, poets and masters of all the arts, both from nations who had fought side by side with the empire in the final struggle, and those that had been forced to bend the knee to it, were summoned to the great capital, and encouraged by the liberality of the conqueror to compete with one another in creating works that would ensure the glory of the empire until the very end of time.
all arts - music, painting, architecture, the theatre - were encouraged, but the arts prized above all others by the citizens of atlantis were the arts of sculpture and jewelry.
the chief enthusiast and patron of these arts was the emperor’s daughter the princess alona, who, besides being a patron of the arts, was one of the chief contenders to be named the aging emperor’s successor.
alona was the daughter of the consort taliona, the youngest of the emperor’s wives.
her main rival for the emperor’s favor was the prince doro, the eldest son of the emperor’s first wife.
doro had little interest in the arts, and thought only of somehow bringing back the age of war - any war, against anything or anybody, so long as he could achieve glory in it.
the people favored alona. the army and navy, fearful that their very existences might be threatened by extended centuries of peace, favored doro.
as the emperor’s hundredth birthday approached, all who truly loved him and all who sought his favor began devising ways of showing their appreciation and celebrating his reign.
princess alona summoned her jewelers and workers of precious metals and commissioned them to produce something unique for the emperor - with no expense to be spared, so long as the final product showed the exquisite taste and artistry which were as much as the emperor, and the empire, which she expected shortly to rule, deserved.
a young artisan named zo, wishing to make a name for himself and secure the attention of the princess. made a bold proposal.
it was well known that the center of the earth was a golden pearl of inconceivable purity and splendor . it was a matter of debate among philosophers as to whether the sight of the pearl would blind any observer.
zo proposed that a mine be dug to the center of the earth, and the golden pearl be recovered and placed in a simple ivory pendant and presented to the emperor - who was himself the radiant center of the universe - as the most fitting present possible for his anniversary.
the princess was favorable to the idea. some among her retinue had reservations.
some though that digging the mine might unleash volcanoes, earthquakes, floods, fires, and demons.
but it was pointed that nothing amiss could come from so noble a project.
the princess had other reasons for embracing the project.
a vast army of slaves would be required. and a vast army of slaves was at hand - mostly taken from the defeated kingdoms of mu and gondwana.
many of the “old” citizens of atlantis felt that these slaves led too easy a life - that they were a bunch of layabouts enjoying the “delicious fruits of defeat”.
more importantly, to the princess, her rival prince doro was suspected of secretly fomenting rebellion among these slaves, in order to provoke a new war of rebellion - a war in which he could indulge his innate love of chaos and carnage, and ultimately present himself to the emperor and the citizens of the empire as the savior of civilization.
accordingly, the princess gave orders that the mine be dug, and the pearl at the center of the earth recovered.
at first, all went well.
as the hundredth birthday of the emperor approached, the wings of peace seemed to spread themselves ever more benignly over the empire.
the great mine was being dug. to the satisfaction of the citizens, the vast army of slaves was happily employed.
the mine was being dug with a starting point on a remote island in the great ocean, one blessed with a mild climate all year round.
a great city sprung up on the island, around the mine.
grand hotels were built. aristocrats from every kingdom began to frequent them, and to make pleasure excursions to view the activity at the mine itself.
prophets, mountebanks, swindlers, gamblers, and purveyors of all imaginable pleasures flocked to the scene.
it was glorious days for the princess alona, and her new confidant and toady, young zo. she was hailed already as the source of new wealth and glory for the empire, and was increasingly spoken of as the obvious successor to armon-mu.
as can be imagined, prince doro took a malignant view of all this.
he sought allies among others who might have had a chance at the succession, and who would like to see alona’s star shine less brightly.
on his own, doro sought the council of magicians.
pete paused in his story.
“i hope i am not boring you,“ he told cosima.
“not at all, pete. this is all very droll. i assume that this pearl at the center of the earth is what you call ‘the golden gumdrop’?"
“yes, it is. would you like me to move ahead quicker?”
“no, no. take your time. i see you are a little low there. would you like another drink?”
the drawing room of the collinson town house on east 86th street.
‘excuse me, miss. mister palomine is here.” williams was the perfect imperturbable butler, but the faintest note of disapproval could be detected in his voice.
cosima collision, who had been staring into space, blinked and looked up. “i wonder what he wants.”
“he stated that he was not expected.”
“oh, show him in, show him in. “
“shall i bring anything, miss?”
“no, no. if he wants a drink, i will get him one myself.”
williams nodded and left.
cosima glanced at the antique clock on the mantel. it was early - not quite midnight.
the street outside was quiet. only a few cars could be heard passing by.
pete palomine entered the room, looking a little ill at ease.
“cosima - thank you for seeing me.” pete glanced around the otherwise empty drawing room. “i hope i’m not intruding.”
“make yourself at home, pete. cigarette?”
“sure, thank you.”
“there is some in that silver case there. help yourself.”
pete took a cigarette and sat down on a sofa across from cosima. “you are probably wondering why i’m here.”
“i don’t know why you are here, pete. why don’t you tell me why you are here.” cosima looked at pete with just the faintest hint of pity.
pete was not quite what he had been just a few months ago.
then he had been the darling - one of the sudden darlings of the art world. his “hypnotic proletarian“ artworks were having their day in the sun.
but then, just as suddenly, his day seemed to be over and newer faces and newer styles had pushed up and past him.
his last major exhibition - at cosima’s gallery - had not gone well, either with the critics or the buying public. there had been threats of a spot of bother - vague threats to pete of both lawsuits and bodily outrage - but nothing had come of them.
but that had not been the problem. the exhibition had just not gone well - it seemed that the “hypnotic proletarian” pieces had lost their charm, or their shock value, or whatever they had had.
there had been no recriminations on either side, but pete and cosima had not seen each other since.
“so, pete, what have you been up to? anything new?”
“you mean - in my own work?” pete laughed a little nervously.
“well - have you been?”
“um - not exactly. i’ve sort of been taking a break.”
“no harm in that. so then what brings you here?”
“i was talking to this fellow the other day.”
“oh?” cosima sighed slightly. “and what did this nameless fellow have to say?”
“he was talking about a certain paying proposition - about a certain so-called fabulous artwork.”
“pete, this doesn’t sound good, not good at all.”
pete held up his hand. “hear me out. i am not asking you to get involved. i know you are a collinson, you would never get involved in anything the least bit shady, so all i am asking is your opinion. on whether there might be anything to this guy’s story at all. i just want your opinion, as a friend.”
“all right.” cosima looked around. “how long is this story?”
“not that long. and it is actually a pretty interesting story - even if you don’t think there is much to it.”
“and it is about?”
“the pearl of armon-mu - otherwise known as the golden gumdrop.”
cosima laughed. “oh - pete!”
“so you have heard of it?”
“maybe. all these stories are the same - the same nonsense. pete, i am really disappointed in you. i tell you what - why don’t you go back to your studio and do something - anything - do clown paintings, ballerinas, red barns at sunset - imitate pollock or de kooning or anybody - do anything and i will take a look at it. i will lend you a few dollars if you need it. but forget this fabulous lost artwork nonsense.”
“but you said you would listen to the story.”
“all right , i’ll listen. maybe you would like a drink first.”
“thank you, that would be nice.”
“and what would you like?”
“um - a whiskey and soda.”
armed with his whiskey and soda, and with cosima having provided herself with a tall gin and bitters, pete began the tale of the golden gumdrop.