and he seeks to locate his old army buddy "whitey" wilson to help him avoid this fate, perhaps by murdering roselle.
stopping outside of syracuse with his new acquaintance pandora wilson on his way to meet whitey in rochester, he buys a newspaper with a sensational headline.
a body identified as roselle's has been discovered in an alley in brooklyn.
suspicious of the mysterious stranger's motives, roselle escapes from her and enters a dark bar, where she encounters "blackie" bascomb, who has a tale to tell...
blackie continued his story.
“the maid came back with the tea and cakes. she didn’t look at barlow or myself when she set them out. barlow tried to catch her eye to give her a big smile because that was the way he was.
but once the maid was gone, barlow suddenly stopped playing the farmboy and just sipped his tea and had some cake and let the countess ignore him and ask me questions. he told me later he was just feeling happy to get away from the unit for a few hours.
the countess was making a real effort to be nice to me. you could tell being nice was not her usual game. she kept asking me questions about different cousins and relatives and i had to tell her i didn’t know much - half of them i never heard of.
except for saying cousin so-and-so was in burma or morocco or wherever, neither of us said anything about the war. i didn’t ask her which side she had been on. that would have been pretty rude.
like i said, i thought she wanted something from me. and she finally got around to it.
she told me she had some items which very valuable to her and she wondered if i could take some of them back to the states with me.
i told her i didn’t know when i would be returning to the united states.
she said she understood but that she thought these things would be safer with me.
i told her that life in the military - i did not mention the word ‘war’ - involved a certain measure of uncertainty.
she took a sip of tea and told me that she understood that very well.
it was all very civilized. i glanced over at barlow but he seemed to be half dozing off and not paying any attention to us.
i told the countess that i could not make any guarantees.
she took another sip of tea. she stared at me. not glaring, not pleading, just looking at me.
i asked her what exactly she wanted me to take for her. i realized that in the game she was playing she would consider this a point for herself - that i asked before she told me, but i didn’t care.
she told me she had a couple of paintings that were of some value. my eyes went to the portraits on the wall, and she laughed. really laughed.
‘oh no, not those. those can go down with the ship, as it were. no, a couple of items of real value. and not too large or cumbersome.’
i repeated that, small as they might be, i thought they might be safer where they were than traveling with me. also, who knew when she might be able to retrieve them from me?
‘i can give you an address in new york to take them to. perhaps you might get leave sometime soon and be able to take them to america then.’
i replied that though i was far from the most valuable individual in the army, i did not expect any kind of leave any time soon.
barlow, whom i had thought half asleep, interjected that we had been cooling our heels in england for almost two years before finally getting to europe, and leave was not to be thought of at this point.
the countess merely nodded, and told me that she also had a few valuable stock certificates that she would like to entrust to me. she would give the addresses of a banker in london and another in new york that i could deliver them to.
stock certificates? i repeated what i had said before about no guarantees, etc., and she told me she understood. i realized that she took this as my acquiescing in taking the stock certificates.
i felt a little foolish, but what could i do? i had certainly given her enough warnings, and no guarantees.
i thought that settled it, but the countess went on.
“there is one other thing - just one other thing, but it is very dear to me.’
“and what might be?’ i asked politely.
‘my beloved tomo.’
tomo? what, i thought. a dog or a cat? i was actually surprised, too surprised to laugh. “i am sorry, but i can’t take a cat or a dog. it - it just isn’t possible.’
‘no? i knew many officers in the old days who kept dogs - even whole packs of hunting dogs. they would hardly have thought their fatherland or motherland - whatever it was - worth fighting for if they could not hunt.’
“be that as it may, dear cousin, i can not take your dog. are you sure you would not miss it if i did? and besides, a dog’s life is short enough as it is.’
but the countess only laughed. ‘that is all very well, but i am not asking you take a dog.’
‘what then? a bird - a canary or parakeet?”
‘no, no. tomo is my servant. the young man who greeted you at the door and ushered you in.’
i looked at barlow. like me, he was too surprised to laugh. and the countess was not laughing or smiling - she seemed quite serious.
‘i am afraid that is not possible,’ i told her.
‘why not? i would think it the easiest thing in the world. just make him your batman - your personal servant. if you get back to london or new york, you can bring him along with the stock certificates and leave him.’ the countess stared steadily at me. ‘unless, of course, you have grown so attached to him - or he to you - that you prefer to wait for me to pick him up when i can.’
i repeated that it was not possible.
‘but why? are you not an officer?’
‘of course i am an officer.’
‘and american officers do not have personal servants? surely you do .’
“i doubt if even general eisenhower has a personal servant of the sort you envision. if he does, it is some pfc the army has assigned him, not an old family servant.’
‘ why, that is the most bolshevik thing i have ever heard of. i am sure even the officers in the red army have servants.’ the countess put her teacup down with an emphatic thump.
“that is the most bolshevik thing i have ever heard of,' the countess repeated. 'here i have been praying for the yankee army to get here before the red army. perhaps i was ill advised.’’’
blackie paused in his story. to his surprise, roselle actually seemed to be listening to it, and even had an absent smile on her lips.
the bar was now even emptier, as the bartender had disappeared. blackie lit a cigarette and continued.
“well, you can guess what happened next. despite my disappointing her so bitterly, the countess made good on her offer of dinner, which was good enough though not quite up to barlow’s midwestern standards of a ‘square meal’, and she continued to be polite until barlow and i finally took our leave. i took her precious stock certificates, and her paintings too, which seemed the least i could do after refusing to take tomo.”
roselle laughed. “that was probably all she wanted all along.“
“yes, barlow thought the exact same thing. he thought the whole thing was pretty funny. he also told me we could have taken tomo with us - and shot him and dumped him in the first river or haystack we came to. i told him i thought tomo looked quite capable of killing both of us first.
and so we made our way back without incident. if anyone missed us i never knew it.
well, strange to say, i actually kept the certificates and the paintings -
which were out of their frames and did not take up that much space -
and turned them over to the countess’s man in london when the war was over.
and there the story might have ended. but as it turns out it was only beginning.” blackie paused again.
“oh?” roselle asked.
“because who do you think i should run into just last week on sixth avenue?’