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