Monday, August 24, 2015

the golden gumdrop caper - part 3

by manfred skyline

illustrated by roy dismas

originally appeared in the june through september 1956 issues of last stop - excitement magazine

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here

last, there was a letter - very wrinkled, as if the censors had been all over it more than once - from the state prison in north carolina.

north carolina? slade did not think he knew anybody in north carolina. and he did not recognize the name or number in the return address.

the name was “gilbert gray”. it didn’t ring any bells. but then, slade did not have a good memory for names.

on purpose.

it was something he had learned from his old mentor max jacob. max was a believer in sherlock holmes’s theory that a person’s memory had a finite capacity and should not be cluttered with useless or superfluous information .

max added his own refinements to the famous detective’s precept. one of which was, that since people - especially those “outside the law” - often gave false names, especially in situations where the name would be of most interest - having a “ good memory for names” was not only a waste of time but of the brain’s resources.

young stanley had taken this, like many of the old pawnbroker and fence’s other maxims, to heart.

now, sitting at his little desk in the prison library, he opened the letter from “gilbert gray” without much curiosity or expectation.

the letter was short, on a single sheet of lined yellow paper, written in all capital letters. and despite the wrinkling, none of it had been blocked out by the censors.

hello brother stanley slade.

you may not remember me brother but i think of you every day as we was together when the lord decreed our capture. i hope you are ready for the good news about salvation as i was. stay strong and read the good book brother.

sincerely your fellow sinner

gilbert gray

“together when the lord decreed our capture”? slade thought for a minute.

when he had been picked up in the automat on bedford street the papers - especially the new york federal-democrat - wrote it up as a “triple play”. slade himself, al gordon’s girl angela jones, whom slade had been at a table with - and there was another guy the police grabbed in the automat.

it must have been this character writing the letter.

slade read the brief message again.

“ready for the good news about salvation” - was that a message that somebody, probably here in the joint with him - or maybe a lawyer - was going to get in touch with him? about what?

maybe. or maybe not. it did not sound too exciting either way.

but slade did not throw the letter away. he put it back in the envelope and slipped the envelope between the pages of the book he had been reading - the whirlpool by george gissing.

he got up and looked up and down the few stacks in the small library to make sure nobody had slipped in unnoticed while he was going through his mail.

he always liked to know who was in the library and exactly where.

but there was nobody but old doc phillips in the chair by the window reading a biography of theodore roosevelt. he had let doc in when the library opened.

slade went back and opened the whirlpool again. at page 83. he always remembered the page where he had left off in a book, and never needed bookmarks.


two days later.

slade was back at his desk in the library. he had finished the whirlpool by george gissing, and was starting a love crime by paul bourget.

it was quiet as usual. doc philips was still in his chair by the window reading the biography of theodore roosevelt.

two other cons had come in to ask if the copy of forever amber had been returned and slade had told them it had not. one of them had taken out the black rose by thomas b costain and the other had settled for an anthology of famous american stories.

another con entered. a big but soft looking guy with the map of sicily on his face. slade did not recognize him. he had a book in his hand but did not immediately put it down on the desk or offer it to slade.

“hello, slade.”

“hello.” slade was used to being recognized by cons he did not know.

“remember me?”

“i can’t say that i do, pal,” slade answered politely.

“lou lombardo. we was picked up together.”

“we were? when was this?”

“ha ha. the last time you was picked up. at that automat. with my pal gil gray. it was in all the papers. but i guess you don’t remember.”

gray. gray again. “i must have been concentrating on my own unfortunate situation,” slade answered.

lou lombardo laughed good-naturedly again. “sure. i was just a footnote. the papers wrote up you and gil and that chick. but that’s all ancient history.”

“yes, it is.” slade didn’t want to talk about it, but he regarded lombardo without expression. one of the keys to keeping this soft job was always keeping cool and being polite so that nobody ever complained and - more importantly - never caused any ruckus or trouble that required summoning a guard.

“oh,” lombardo said, “i am bringing this book back.” he handed slade the ragged, heavily taped book he had been holding. it was one of the most popular books in the little library - think and grow rich by napoleon hill.

“thanks.” slade took the book.

“you should read it yourself,” lombardo said. “it’s a good book.” he looked slade right in the eye. “a good book. a really really good book.”

a good book. slade got the message. there was something inside the book for him to read , either a piece of paper or something written right in the book or underlined . it had better be a piece of paper, he thought, or maybe right on the inside covers, because he was not about to go through the whole book looking for whatever lombardo and his pal gray thought he might be interested in.

“i’ll take a look at it.” he gave lombardo the briefest of nods to show he understood.

lombardo did not move away. he glanced at doc philips reading his book by the window.

“i’m interested in art,” he announced. “how about you?” he asked slade. “you interested in art?”

was this more of the message? “a little bit,” slade answered. “i’m not really an expert on it.”

“oh.” lombardo seemed a little disappointed. “but you got some art books?”

“not many. they are kind of expensive.”

“expensive? hey, can’t the taxpayers spring for them? a lot of the guys can’t read, you know, so you’d think they could buy some picture books for them to look at.”

“they aren’t bought by anybody,” slade said. “they get donated by kindly citizens. they just don’t give away many art books. and if they do, the guys tear the pictures out so they don’t last long.”

“i see.” lombardo looked pensive. “hey, you know what else i am interested in?”


“the mysteries of love. the mysteries of the human soul.”

“we got a few books like that. havelock ellis, edgar cayce, freud. but they are always out. i can put you on the list.”

“nah, don’t bother.”

“how about astrology ?” slade had found that cons who wanted books about the “mysteries of love” often liked astrology. “we got a number of books about astrology.”

“i will just look around. i’m here, i might as well get something.”

lombardo moved away from the desk. slade went back to page 14 of a love crime.

part 4

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

darkness, my home town - part 6

by fred flynn

illustrated by roy dismas

originally appeared in the june 1949 issue of frontiers of space magazine

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

to begin at the beginning, click here

click here for previous episode

jerry murphy has returned to chicago from a hitch in deep space, to discover that his uncle stan has been framed for murder - and is headed for the chair!

now jerry has to dig something up to save him - fast!

he grabs a cab to the east side, hoping to find something before it is too late.

a stop at the late packy miller's flower shop is a dead end....

but a dropped matchbook points to the lair of the mysterious chuck borgia...


“hey, has anybody seen chuck borgia? chuck borgia, from chicago?”

every year there was a “big fight”, somewhere on earth, usually in some place like stalingrad or johannesburg or montivideo. and the biggest hoods and gangsters from all over the world came to see it and each other and make deals and have a good time.

although there was no official “truce”, it was understood that peace prevailed and that out and out warfare and gunplay were off limits, until the gathering broke up and everybody went back to their own territory.

and usually everybody showed up. it was considered rude not to.

so when tommy the toad, from syracuse, asked muskrat phil geronimo, from palermo, and eddie chang, from macao, as the trio sat in lulu johnson’s lounge in stalingrad, if anybody had seen chuck borgia, he did not get much of a response.

“he’s got to be around here somewhere,” said phil.

“sure,” added eddie, “after all, it’s his local kid who’s fighting. he’s probably being asked a million questions about him.”

“yeah, “ tommy the toad retorted, “but the kid ain’t his. it’s the other chicago guy’s - packy miller - “

“packy miller got bumped off,” said phil. “it’s the new guy - red somebody.”

tommy shrugged. “packy - red - it don’t make no never mind. i still think it’s a bit suspicious that nobody’s seen chuck borgia, that’s all.”

just then sally bronson, jerry the jumper from warsaw’s moll, happened to pass by the trio’s table.

“chuck borgia? i could not help but overhear you gentleman’s conversation. well, i got it on good authority that chuck borgia will not be in attendance - hometown boy or no hometown boy.”

“oh?” eddie responded politely, “and where did you hear that?”

“i told you - on good authority.” sally stuck her nose in the air. “if you don’t believe me, ask jerry the jumper or king mazonka.”

tommy, phil, and eddie watched sally sashay away.

they fell into a thoughtful reverie.

tommy took a sip of his bourbon and water. “he must have a good reason,” he said.

“oh yeah,” phil retorted. “he’s got a good reason, all right. a five letter word reason - a five letter word beginning with “a”.

“alibi,” eddie explained unnecessarily.

tommy shrugged. “if he’s going to bump somebody off, it’s got to be this red guy from chicago. i don’t think we got anything to worry about.”

“red fuller,” eddie said. “i think red fuller can probably take care of himself.”

“no doubt he can,” repled phil. “but that ain’t the point. it shows a certain - a certain lack of character. and it ain’t right.”

“no, it ain’t ,” tommy agreed.

“it violates the spirit of the occasion.” phil warmed to his theme. “everybody is here to have a good time. who wants to have a gun go off in their ear, or get somebody’s blood or brains all over their nice new suit that they bought especially for the occasion?”

“you might as well not even have a big fight,” eddie added.

tommy finished his bourbon and water. “ah, forget it. let’s have another drink. this round’s mine.”


“the guys will be extra alert, red. you can count on it.”

“extra? extra compared to what? they weren’t alert before? what are they there for, if they ain’t alert?”

“come on red, don’t talk like some lawyer. you know what i mean.” charlie “the cowboy” callahan looked around the suite red fuller had booked on the top floor of the stalingrad ambassador hotel, where a quick confab of red’s boys had been called.

“do i? ” red asked.

“we’ve always backed you up before, haven’t we?” charlie asked, raising his eyebrows. what he didn’t have to say - what everybody in the room understood was - “we backed you against packy miller, didn’t we?”

red just grunted in reply. he poured himself some more vodka from the bottle in his hand.

“it’s lucky,” charlie continued in a more relaxed tone, “that we’re here on the top floor. we don’t have as many exits to cover.”

“lucky? what’s lucky about it? you think i was going to be someplace besides on the top floor? wherever i go? where else would i be?”

charlie laughed. “sure. what was i thinking?”

“and besides,” red continued, “ we are not going to stay cooped up in here. we got to make the rounds, show our faces, just like nothing is happening.”

“of course, red, of course.”

red turned to “chicago jimmy” kelly, the young fighter, who was sitting by himself in a corner, wearing the sharpest suit in the room.

“how about you, kid? what do you think about all this?”

the kid punched the air a few times. “i’m just going to fight my fight, red. what else can i do?”

“that’s right. you guys hear that? the kid’s got the right attitude. you should all have that attitude.”

“look here,” put in “doc” polanski, who had been sitting down doing a crossword puzzle, “you know chuck borgia isn’t doing himself any favors with this nonsense. nobody - and i mean nobody - is saying anything good about him, all on account of this.”

“that’s right,” added willie “the weeper” wattleback, “solly solomon, from the east side of london, has been particularly vocal in his displeasure. and so has the big frenchman. ”

“that’s great,” red agreed. “just great. that and ten kopecks will get me a cup of the lousy russian coffee they got in this hotel.”

“you don’t like the coffee, red,” charlie told him, “drink the vodka.”

“that’s what i been doing,” red answered. he put the bottle down on a table. “but it’s time to move out. move out and mingle. let’s go.”


back in chicago, terry pulled the cab up in front of borgia’s fine food and drink emporium on the north side.

she was able to pull right up to the front door as there were no other cars parked on the street.

nor were there any people outside on the street.

“looks pretty quiet,” said jerry.

“that’s right,” said terry. “i should have thought of that. chuck and his boys are probably at the big fight just like red and his boys.

in fact they are all probably sitting around having cocktails and hors-d’oeuvres together even as we sit here.”

“but the lights are on,” jerry said. “is it open?”

“oh yeah, it’s probably open.”

“we're here, we might as well go inside.” jerry opened his door. “i mean, i’m going in, you don’t have to.”

“i’ll go in with you. i got nothing better to do.”

part 7

Monday, August 10, 2015

the golden gumdrop caper - part 2

by manfred skyline

illustrated by roy dismas

originally appeared in the june through september 1956 issues of last stop - excitement magazine

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

to begin at the beginning, click here

“i am sorry to see you here like this, slade,” the warden intoned mournfully.

but the twinkle in his eye belied his words.

the international jewel thief stanley slade had been warden jones’s favorite prisoner before his sensational escape - as he was one of the few prisoners with whom he could carry on what he considered a civilized conversation - and the warden hoped that after the requisite time slade would spend in solitary, he would again favor him with his occasional company.

“i am sorry if i embarrassed you, warden,” slade responded politely. “it was not my primary intention.”

“ha ha, no of course not. no doubt you had more pressing concerns.” the warden cleared his throat. “but look here, slade. you have caused me a little embarrassment. with wagging tongues suggesting that i was treating you too much like a guest and not a prisoner. so i thought - in order to show some firmness i thought i might have you kept in solitary for two months instead of the required one. i hope you don’t mind.”

“no, i don’t mind.”

poor fellow, thought the warden, he looked a little dazed. and who wouldn’t be, after the whirlwind events of the past seventy-two hours when he had escaped from the prison only to be picked up less than forty-eight hours later in a seedy manhattan automat - without a fight. and then returned to the prison after an intensive grilling by some sort of top secret government agency that did not even seem to have a name.

“the light in solitary is not too bad at this time of year,” the warden continued apologetically. “you should be able to get some reading done at least.”

slade just nodded.

the warden picked up a book up from his desk. “you had this book checked out of the library at the time of your departure. under western eyes, by joseph conrad. would you like it?’

“uh, sure, thank you.” slade took the book from the warden.

“any other books you would like?” the warden asked.

“um - how about a couple of volumes of the encyclopedia brittanica? “r” and “s” - i never got that far.”

the warden laughed. “nothing personal, slade, but i hope you stick around long enough this time to finish the whole encyclopedia. “

slade laughed politely. “and then i could read the whole catholic encyclopedia.”

“if you blow the dust off it, you mean.” the warden chuckled.

“oh no, the guys read everything. the ones that read at all. uh, that reminds me - “

“yes?” the warden raided his eyebrows.

“when i get out of solitary, can i have my old job back in the library?”

“oh… probably. we’ll see. i can’t make any promises.”

“thank you. i understand.”

“i guess that’s all. once you are out of solitary, and you keep your nose clean, i don’t see why we can’t resume our occasional little chats. and maybe play some games of chess again.”

“i would enjoy that.”

the warden pressed a buzzer and spoke into an intercom device on his desk. “we are through in here, morris. you can take the prisoner away.”

the warden picked some letters off his desk after slade was taken away. that went well, he thought.


morris, the guard escorting slade to solitary, looked at the book in his hand. “the warden gave you a book, huh?”


“what’s it about?”

“a guy who gets in big trouble for something he didn’t do. and has to go on the run. just for hanging out with the wrong people.”

“haw haw! just like all you guys, right? haw haw.”

“i’ve read it before. it’s one of my favorites.”

“i bet.” the guard continued to chuckle.

“i recommend it to everybody.”


the warden did not know it, but slade might have plans for him.

warden jones was a lonely man. he had been a lonely boy, living on a small farm in the distant hills, dreaming of being an outlaw, and riding the rails and robbing the mail train with john dillinger and jesse james, and riding through the american night and sleeping in the woods.

although he did not have the nerve to become a desperado himself, he became a prison guard in order to rub elbows at least with the glamorous men whose daring exploits had lit up his youthful dreams.

needless to say, his expectations had not come true. but then, who among us has expectations that do?

but he continued to seek - without being too obvious about it (he thought) the good graces of the handful of prisoners, like slade, who evinced some pale shadow of the outlaws of his dreams .

in his previous plans, and his previous escape, slade had not thought to take advantage of the poor fellow.

but now he would rethink everything. and consider anything.


two months later.

slade was out of solitary. and back at his desk at the prison library.

he finally got to look at the mail that had come for him while he was in solitary.

there were thirteen letters - hand addressed envelopes from people whose names he did not recognize at all. he got letters like this even before his escape - a few from “lovelorn” women of all ages, but mostly from religious people looking to save his soul. an occasional one from a hero-worshipful boy or young man - like warden jones must have been.

no requests for interviews from reporters. he felt a little disappointed. not that he had anything to say to them. maybe there had been some, but the warden had sent them back.

nothing from miss hyacinth wilde, or any other women of his acquaintance. but that was to be expected.

there was one postcard - of a buxom blonde tossing a beachball on a very clean and sunshiny and almost deserted “coney island”. it was from jake jaspers, a bellhop at slade’s old address, the hotel st crispian on bedford st. jake had written on it - “hey old buddy wish you were here. mort says hello too.”

mort. mortimer, the elevator operator at the hotel. slade would have thought he was more likely to send him a postcard than jake, but then you never knew with mortimer.

last, there was a letter - very wrinkled, as if the censors had been all over it more than once - from the state prison in north carolina.

north carolina? slade did not think he knew anybody in north carolina. and he did not recognize the name or number in the return address.

part 3

Monday, August 3, 2015

the golden gumdrop caper

by manfred skyline

illustrated by roy dismas

originally appeared in the june through september 1956 issues of last stop - excitement magazine

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

there were only eight inmates in the maximum security wing of the women’s federal prison in b————, and four of them never got any visitors or mail.

so it was with some slight surprise that the chief guard of the wing, greta “iron mask” grumbowski, was interrupted from her dozing and doodling at her little desk by one of her underlings announcing,

“visitor for ricardo.”

it was saturday, the regular visiting day, and three of the inmates were already down in the visiting area. they had regular visitors, and their visitors that day had been scheduled in the proper fashion, according to regulations.

iron mask, who liked routine followed and regulations observed, checked her notebook while the guard, whose name was morrissey, waited.

“i don’t have any visitor down for ricardo.”

“he’s got a pass signed by the warden. nixon called the office and they said he was legit.”

“let me guess - he’s a lawyer.”

“he sure is, “ morrissey answered. “he looks like one. dressed real nice, like the king of spain , and nixon says she’s seen him in the papers - a real big shot lawyer for i don’t know, al capone or stalin or somebody.”

“seen him in the funny papers, probably. well, if the warden says it’s o k, it’s no skin off my big red nose.”

“want me to get ricardo?”

“no, i’ll get her myself. you wait here.” iron mask heaved herself out of her chair.

as iron mask headed down the corridor, she did not see the smirk on morrissey’s face but she knew it was there.

angela ricardo was iron mask’s favorite prisoner. she was young and good-looking and never acted up or gave any trouble, though she had kind of a smart mouth.

she was the only one of the eight occupants of the ward who was not serving time for murder. she had been sentenced to twenty to forty years for a long series of robbery and fraud charges. if she ever got out, she faced similar outstanding charges in mexico, brazil, france, egypt, and singapore.

she sometimes passed the time playing chess or checkers or cribbage or gin rummy with iron mask. although iron mask also played with a couple of the other inmates and ricardo played with some of the other guards, the other inmates somewhat resented ricardo as iron mask’s pet . this did not seem to concern ricardo.

iron mask reached the end of the corridor and entered the prisoners’ area. it was “maximum security” in that they could not get to the other parts of the prison, but the eight could move freely within it. if they acted up, they would be thrown in solitary. there was a dorm room with ten bunks, and a smaller room with tables and chairs where they could play cards or talk or stare into space.

iron mask found ricardo lying down on her cot in the dormitory, reading the letters of alice roosevelt, a book which had been in the prison library for a while but did not show much sign of wear.

“visitor for you,” iron mask announced .

ricardo showed no sign of surprise. she sat up. “about time.”

“he’s a lawyer.”

“i should hope so.” ricardo closed the letters of alice roosevelt and slipped it under her pillow.

“let’s go then. morrissey will take you down.”

ricardo stood up. “to the regular visitor’s area?”

iron mask laughed. “you were expecting something else, missy? a special room, with tea and buttered crumpets?”

“just asking, old sport, just asking.”


richard “dick” richmond had the complexion of a boating man, and wore a powder blue suit with a pink shirt and a scarlet and navy blue school tie. he was seated at the farthest end of the long row of visitors windows. only a few other windows were occupied with visitors on one side and prisoners on the other, although a number of inmates were talking to visitors - including a sizable number of children - in chairs in an area behind the widows.

he stood up as angela ricardo, escorted by morrissey. approached him. he gave the impression of leaning on a walking stick, although he was not actually doing so. a very thin briefcase lay on the narrow shelf on his side of the window.

“ah, miss ricardo, a pleasure. do you have my card?” he sat down again. “i gave it to this charming young lady” - indicating morrissey - “to give to you.”

“yeah, i got it.” they both waited until morrissey moved a couple of yards away.

“the card doesn’t say who you came from.”

“did you think it would? do you really need to know, at this point?”

“i guess not.”

dick richmond looked around. “i must say this is all quite informal. the noise of the children provides a most charming background.”

“are you going to ask them to turn it down?”

“oh, no, no! ha ha! actually it might prove quite useful - in certain cases. not that we have anything to hide.” he smiled.

“i’m not in any hurry here, counselor.”

“of course not. nor am i. well then, where to begin?”

“how about with what you can do for me?”

“indeed. as you have no doubt surmised, i represent interests friendly to yourself, and who have taken an interest in yourself.”


“who feel that your sentence is excessive, and are willing to exert their slight influence on your behalf, under the right circumstances.”

“i understand.”

dick richmond lowered his voice. “let us be sure you do understand. my clients, if they are successful on your behalf, will owe you nothing, and you will owe them everything. also - this may sound a bit rude, but they asked me to give you this message in these words - they are interested in you, but do not regard you as unique or irreplaceable. there are, again in their words, other fish in the pond. if you are not amenable to their terms, they can find someone else for their purposes.”

“no problem. i understand.”

the lawyer relaxed. “ah. my clients told me you were a person who knew the drill, and my finely honed instincts tell me they were correct.”

“that’s good to know.”

“there is, however, one other little matter, that they requested that i bring up.”

“and what might that be?”

“slade. mister stanley slade.”

for the first time in the interview, angela ricardo looked a little unsure of herself. “slade? what about him?”

“they found it a bit problematic that you were arrested with him.”

“it was a coincidence.”

“yes, and such enquiries as they have made find nothing to contradict that. even so - “

“even so what? it was a coincidence, i don’t know what else to tell you .”

he gave her a cross-examining stare. “so you had nothing to do with slade before that night?”

“i ran into him a few times, years before that. i don’t know that i said two words to him.”

“you ran into him a few times.” the lawyer held his stare. “ mister slade had - no doubt still has - a reputation for having an eye for a pretty face. and if you will indulge an old man, you have a very pretty face.”

“and it was even prettier back then. what can i tell you? maybe slade had a girl. maybe he thought i was al gordon’s girl and he didn’t want to deal with al. maybe he heard i was a commie. i don’t know.”

“ha ha, as for your associations with as you put it - “commies” - my clients are aware of it and regard it with some amusement.” dick richmond cleared his throat. “so that is your final word on the subject?”

“yes, it is.”

“very well, then, i will advise my clients to that effect. if they decide to go forward and if a hearing is scheduled, you will know about it. you are a big girl, you know the proper things to say in that situation.”

“what about honest employment?”

“excuse me?”

“in a hearing you usually have to say you got a job lined up outside.”

dick richmond considered. “an excellent point. i see you really have a head on your shoulders. yes, i think i can say that if such information is deemed necessary, you will be informed.”

“and if i get out, what then?”

the lawyer looked around, lowered his voice still further. “if and when you are released, take the bus to new york, which runs at least twice daily. get off at yonkers. you will be contacted. “

“yonkers, i can remember that.”

“good.” he gripped his briefcase, which he had not glanced at the whole time, and stood up. “then i wish you good day and good luck.”

“good luck to you, counselor.”

part 2