Wednesday, September 30, 2015

the golden gumdrop caper, part 5

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

in our previous chapters, we met the notorious adventuress angie ricardo, recently sentenced to a long term in a federal penitentiary, who has been contacted by mysterious personages who propose to get her released, for their own purposes...

angie checked the glove compartment of the desoto one more time, running her hand over the whole interior.

nothing. nothing except the envelope with the two twenties, the book of matches, and the pack of cigarettes.

there was nothing written in the book of matches, unless it was in invisible ink.

the pack of old golds - nice of them to know her brand - was unopened, and she could not believe that they - whoever “they” were - went to the trouble of putting a message inside it and sealing it up again.

no, it made more sense that they did not want to risk anything - even the most cryptic note - that would point directly to the purpose and destination of the vehicle.

the only possible message was “ronnie’s “ on the book of matches. in yonkers , where dick richmond had told her to wait for a connection at the bus station.

so yonkers it was - at ronnie’s, or the bus station?

wait. could there be something in the trunk? maybe, but not likely. she would check it later. better to get away from here first.

she could not see it, but angie knew where the highway was.

the dirt road where the desoto was parked led in its general direction, with the desoto aimed down it.

she drove down the road with no lights . parts of the road were so narrow and so overhung with trees it was live driving in a tunnel.

she stopped when she got a glimpse of the highway. she took the bag of clothes and got out of the car and quickly changed into them. the night was cold, and she scratched herself a few times on the bushes beside the narrow road.

there were a shirt and a pair of pants and a dress. and a jacket. no hat. she put the pants and shirt on. they were a little loose.

a pair of shoes, also a little loose. but she did not want to wear the prison shoes. the new shoes had laces, she tied them as tight as she could.

throw the prison uniform and shoes away? she decided not to, not yet. they might come in handy if the clothes she was wearing got wet or torn or something. she stuffed the uniform and prison shoes in the bag, and put the bag in the back seat.

she realized she had not checked the back seat. but there was nothing in it, or under it.

she opened the pack of old golds. it was packed tight with cigarettes, no sign of a note or message. she took one out and lit it with the cigarette lighter from the dashboard.

finally she eased the car down off the dirt road and on to the highway and turned on the lights.

the highway was empty. the clock on the dashboard read 3:15.

she should reach yonkers just around quarter to six. perfect. the bus station would not be too crowded, but it would just be coming to life, not empty.

if nobody contacted her at the bus station, she would try ronnie’s bar or whatever it was. she hoped it opened before noon.

i should have looked in the trunk, she thought, as she rolled down the highway. there could be anything in it - a body, a suitcase with a million dollars in it or the crown jewels of russia…


the thin man took the ten of diamonds and placed it on the jack of spades. he had no place to put the five of diamonds. he shuffled three cards off the deck. six of hearts. no place to put that either.

behind him, dick richmond got up and moved to the bar. he hesitated, decided not to pour himself another drink after all, then went over to the window.

he looked at his watch. “i wonder if our girl got away all right.”

“she either did or she didn’t,” the thin man answered. he looked down at his cards. he needed a black seven. the seven of spades was already on the board.

“i need the seven of clubs,” he told dick richmond. “i can’t do anything without the seven of clubs.”

dick richmond peeked around the window shade at the dark empty street. “do you always play by the rules?” he asked the thin man.

“of course. when i am playing by myself.“ he swept all the cards up off the table and began shuffling for a new game.

dick richmond went to the bar and poured himself a drink. just a little one.


angie turned the car radio on. she got a station from pittsburgh.

the music was o k, but the disc jockey talked too much. she tried to find another station.

she got nothing but static and turned the radio off.

she couldn’t stop thinking about what might be in the trunk.

maybe this whole thing is just setting me up for a murder rap or worse, she thought. another mile and state troopers will pull me over and find who knows what?

it sounded crazy, but crazy things happened.

like what was happening right now.

she decided to pull over at the next gas station or roadside cafe - even if it was closed. and check the trunk, just so she wouldn’t keep driving herself crazy.

as soon as she made up her mind to do this, she saw a little place. one pump, and a little shack of a cafe with a dim light in the window.

she turned in, driving over gravel. if there was anybody in the little cafe, they would hear her.

there was a sign in the window. she could barely make it out. it said “open all night.”

but nobody came out to see if she wanted gas.

she opened the trunk.

it contained a spare tire, and a jack and some other tools.

no body, no suitcase, no million dollars, and no crown jewels of russia.

angie laughed. i am getting soft, she thought - soft in the head - and losing my nerve.

she decided to get a cup of coffee if the place was really open. and break one of the twenties. she did not need gas, the tank showed almost full.

she noticed how the temperature had dropped. and it felt like it might start to rain again.

she closed the trunk and took the jacket she had been provided out of the back seat. she put it on, it was too big, and the sleeves came down over her hands.

she rolled the sleeves up, took the cigarettes and matches off the front seat, and locked the car.

a single raindrop hit her on the head. she waited a few seconds, but no more came.

she headed for the door of the shack. the gravel crunched loudly beneath her feet.

part 6

Friday, September 25, 2015

the golden gumdrop caper, part 4

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

another day in the maximum security ward of the women’s federal prison in b—————.

outside, a gray sky with a threat of rain.

inside, business as usual.

angie lay on her bunk reading the battered prison library copy of “anthony adverse”. all the others had gone down to mail call but she had not bothered.

“hey, princess, iron mask has something for you. she asked us to tell you real special.”

angie looked up. collins and marrero were standing over her bunk and grinning own at her.

collins had killed three husbands and marrero two bank guards in a holdup. they liked to think of themselves as ruling the ward, but with only eight inmates in the ward and guards right there all the time, they were mostly just talk.

“i think it’s so sad, “ collins went on, “that a sweet-looking kid like you don’t get more mail. you don’t even go down to check.”

“that’s right,” marrero said. “you should go down and check every day. because you never know, do you?”

angie put a marker in the book and sat up. slowly, careful not to brush up against either of them.

“you’d think a cute number like this would have half the men in america writing to her asking for her picture, wouldn’t you,” collins smirked. “but maybe they know something we don’t.”

angie let them run on. she didn’t want to antagonize them, and eventually they would move away.

“too bad about that big fat book you’re reading,” said marrero. “looks like you might not have time to finish it.”

angie started slightly. what were they talking about? were they threatening her?

collins laughed. “oh, that got her attention, didn’t it?”

“that’s right, cupcake,” marrero said, “you got a little note from the parole board. gee, and it seems like you just got here, don’t it, sally?”

parole board? had the lawyer, dick chandler or whatever his name was, been able to work that fast?

angie looked up at marrero. “did officer grumbowski actually tell you i had a note from the parole board?” she asked slowly.

“no, but i know a parole board letter when i see one. i been looking for one for myself for fifteen years.”


“well, missy,” iron mask greeted angie, “it looks like your lawyer friend knows his onions. or knows where some bodies are buried, or something.” she handed her a thin letter.

the letter did indeed have a stamped return address of the federal parole board. angie ripped it open.

it was just a note. angie quickly scanned it.

“friday,” she told iron mask.

“this friday? three days away?”

“yeah.” angie stared down at the note.

“that was quick,” iron mask said.

almost too quick, angie thought. richmond - that was the lawyer’s name, dick richmond - better know what he was doing.

for one thing, he had agreed to provide her with some kind of jive story about a job waiting for her. well, he would either write her or come in again before friday - and saturday was visiting day - or he wouldn’t.

“you don’t have much time to get prepared,” iron mask interrupted angle’s musings.

angie shrugged. “who needs time to get prepared? just tell them the truth, that’s all you got to do.”

“ha ha ha! that’s what i like about you, missy, your sense of humor. you will lose those pretty looks, but never lose that sense of humor.”


dick richmond did not contact angie before friday, either in person or by mail.

she was left to wonder what was going on as she was driven to albany for the parole hearing.

rain poured down the whole ride to albany, and neither the driver, nor the two guards flanking her in the back seat, were talkative types.

it turned out her hearing was a special one, and there were no other prisoners having their cases heard.

the three members of the parole board - a man and two women - were seated at a table against the front wall of the hearing room. they watched without speaking as the guards brought angie in and took her handcuffs off. it seemed to angie that one of the two women looked very hostile.

there were two rows of seats against the back wall, and one of the guards motioned to angie to sit in the front row.

a table and two chairs were positioned directly in front of the board members, apparently for the petitioner and a lawyer.

there were no spectators present.

there was no sign of dick richmond.

the clock on the wall said ten minutes to two. the hearing was scheduled for two o’clock.

“well, at least she is on time,” said the man, who sat in the center of the threesome. “unlike her lawyer.”

“should we wait for the lawyer?” asked the hostile looking woman. she looks like a nun, thought angie.

“of course we will wait,” the man replied in a soft patient voice. “we will wait until the scheduled time of the hearing, at least.”

at five minutes to two, dick richmond rushed in, with rain drops glistening on his camels hair coat. he glanced up at the clock.

he held up his hand to the man. “please! i apologize for my lateness! a few words with my client, if you will.”

the man laughed. “of course. but don’t try our patience.” the two women grimaced, but said nothing.

the guards moved away and dick richmond took a seat beside angie.

he whispered in her ear. “ i’m sorry about this. some things didn’t go as planned. they tell me you are a cool customer - all i can say is, keep cool and get through this. and everything will work out. i repeat - everything will work out.” then he turned to the board members with a big smile. “all right, i think we are ready to proceed.”

“thank you, counselor,” the man replied drily. he pointed to the table. “both of you come forward, please.”

“let’s get on with it,” said the woman on the left, the less hostile looking one, when angie and the lawyer were seated. she picked up a paper from the table in front of her.

“i must say this is a very curious case, “ she finally said. “the prisoner has served eight months - i repeat, eight months, not eight years - of a twenty to forty year sentence and is up for parole? on a special hearing? very curious.” she pushed her glasses down on her nose and looked at angie. “what have you to say, miss ricardo? why, exactly, should we be giving you parole at this time?”

“because i feel i can be of more value to society out of prison than in it,” angie replied. “and because i am sincerely sorry for my crimes and the harm they have done.”

“let me ask you,” the woman continued, “do you have any particular employment waiting for you, where, as you put it, you can be of more value to society?”

angie managed not to glance at dick richmond as she answered. “no, ma’am, but if i am paroled i will make every effort, i assure you, to find an honest job as soon as i possibly can.”

the man spoke. “you are aware, miss ricardo, are you not, that in addition to the twenty to forty years you are now sentenced to, there are a number of outstanding warrants against you, not only in this country, but in europe and south america? “

and egypt and asia, too, thought angie, but she answered, “yes, sir, i know that.”

“if you are paroled, some or most of these jurisdictions may, as we say, spring into action. you understand that?”

“yes, sir.”

the man shrugged. “i have no more questions.”

“but i do.” the angry looking women on the man’s right finally spoke. “i have a question for miss ricardo.”

angie turned to face her. “yes, ma’am.”

“are you, or have you ever been, a member of the communist party?”

“no, ma’am.”

“are you sure? i have documents here which seem to indicate otherwise.”

“no, ma’am, i was never a member of the american communist party. though i understand why you might be mistaken as to that. my parents died when i was just a little child, and i was brought up by my older sister, rose, who was a member - sometimes the only member - of the people’s united resistance party, a small group that never had more than - “

“resistance party? resistance to what? to the american dream? to everything decent?”

“no, ma’am. i love the american dream, and will try to pursue it myself if just given the chance -“

the man and the woman on his left both laughed.

it did not get any better. dick richmond down looked at his folded hands and never spoke, but cleared his throat a few times as the hearing proceeded.

finally it was over. dick richmond told angie to keep her chin up, grabbed his briefcase and disappeared.

“i hope i at least get something to eat out of all this,” angie said to the guards as they put her handcuffs back on and started to lead her back to the car.

“a sandwich,” one of them said. “the same sandwiches we are going to have ourselves.”

“she can have mine if she wants it,” said the other one. “i’ll wait for my old lady’s home cooking.”


that night angie had a dream in which she was on a mississippi riverboat playing poker with dick richmond, governor thomas dewey, mrs roosevelt, stalin, and her old associates tommy sullivan and frisco johnny ramirez.

frisco johnny was tugging on her arm, saying, “look out the window, babe, at the misty moonlight… in the misty moonlight…“

he kept tugging on her arm.

angie woke up.

iron mask was tugging on her arm. the dorm was dark and the others were all asleep, some of them wheezing or snoring.

iron mask held her finger to her lips. she nodded back at the door, which was open to the corridor.

angie got up groggily, quietly slipped her uniform and shoes on and followed iron mask.

they walked down the corridor. iron mask opened a small door that angie had never seen opened before.

she led her down six floors of narrow winding stairs to another small door, which said “emergency only” on it.

iron mask spoke for the first time. “listen carefully. when you get outside, stay against the wall and take a right until you come to a door in the wall. keep your eyes open, you could miss it. it will be unlocked. go out, walk down the road and there will be a car. the keys will be in it, and some clothes and a little money.” she opened the “emergency” door just wide enough for angie to slip through.

“just go,” she said, when angie hesitated.

angie went outside. the door closed behind her. the night was cold and the ground was wet, but the rain had stopped.

she found the door with no problem, and went through it. but where was the car? she started walking.

she finally came to it, a black 1947 desoto. the door to it was unlocked. the overhead light did not come on when she opened the door and slipped in.

there was a bag on the front passenger seat. she felt it, it felt like clothing.

she opened the glove compartment. the car keys were in it. and an envelope. the envelope had a couple of bills in it. she squinted at them in the dim light - just a couple of twenties. how far was she supposed to get with that? she thought there might be some kind of note with the money, but there was none.

now what? at their first meeting dick richmond had mentioned the bus station in yonkers.

the only other things in the glove compartment were an unopened pack of old golds and a book of matches.

the matchbook was black with gold lettering - “ronnie’s - yonkers new york”

part 5

Friday, September 18, 2015

the black purse: a winter's tale

by horace p sternwall

illustrated by roy dismas and konrad kraus

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

it had been snowing for most of the day outside the venerable hotel st crispian and the weather forecast on the radio predicted that it would continue through the night.

when jake arrived for his hitch as night bellhop, he was told to forget bellhopping and just keep the sidewalks, front and back, shoveled. he was not too happy about it, but what could he do? there went his tips for the night. on the other hand, if the snow did not fall too fast he should have plenty of time to just hang out and relax in the lobby between trips outside to keep the sidewalks clear.

jake knew the drill. a shovel and a pair of heavy galoshes were kept inside the garage on the seventh avenue side of the hotel. he would pick them up and start by shoveling the steps that led up to the hotel’s “front” entrance where old olaf or one of the other doormen presided and which led directly to the corridor beside the prince hal room. he would shovel the seventh avenue sidewalk in front of the hotel. then he would take the shovel and cut through one of the two alleys that led to bedford street and shovel the sidewalk outside the street entrance which led to the front desk and the lobby.

then he would retrace his steps, leave the shovel, the galoshes, and his coat and hat in the garage, and take the elevator upstairs, where, if he was lucky and the snow not falling too fast, he might have a much as half an hour to just shoot the breeze with mortimer the elevator operator or roland the night clerk or anybody else who might be around, before he would have to go back outside again.

jake’s idea of “the snow not falling too fast” might not be the same as roland’s or mr bernstein the night manager’s. but jake for various reasons especially wanted to remain in mr bernstein’s good graces, so he was not going to push it.

old olaf was on duty. that was good, as he could be counted on to keep the front steps clear unless it was an absolute blizzard. just a little less for jake to do - although he would have to make the offer to olaf to do the steps, just for form.

so - night has fallen, the snow is coming down pretty good, and jake is shoveling the snow on the bedford street sidewalk. not too many pedestrians pass him by, and even fewer cars.

he picks up the shovel and feels and sees something on it - something besides the snow.

a purse - a small black lady’s purse. it was very light - when he picked it up it felt like it was empty.

jake looked up and down the street. he was an old hand at these things.

was it some kind of scam? in a snowstorm?

the way he figured it, even if the purse hadn’t felt empty, either there was nothing worth taking in it, or whoever dropped it would be back looking for it. he decided to just give it to roland and let him or mr bernstein worry about it.

he had finished clearing the sidewalk so he retraced his steps back to the garage, and then took his find up to the lobby.

the lobby was pretty empty. there were only three people in the chairs.

"farmer" brown, looking a little forlorn without his usual two cronies “lord” wolverington and miss charlton. all three of them cheapskates that jake had little use for.

pierre, one of the foreign gentlemen from the upstairs suite. another lousy tipper - or no tipper - like most europeans. give jake a south american any day!

and little miss gwendolyn, also from the upstairs suite. much more generous, a real nice american girl! she was seated part from the others, reading “under the greenwood tree” by thomas hardy.

mr nolan, the house detective, was not in his usual chair, but leaning on the front desk, chatting with roland.

neither nolan nor roland seemed too interested in jake’s find.

nolan looked the black purse over, then opened it.

“empty.” he looked at jake. he didn’t have to say anything.

“i never opened it,” jake said. “the way i figured it , either there was nothing in it, or whoever dropped it would be back looking for it. not,” he added quickly under nolan’s gaze, “that i would have taken nothing out of it anyway.”

nolan nodded. “of course not.”

farmer brown had come up to the desk. “you know,” he told nolan, “sherlock holmes or dr thorndyke could have told if it had been opened recently, just by the amount of moisture on the clasp.”

“i am sure they could have,” nolan agreed. he dropped the purse on the desk. “just hold on to it,” he told roland. “if no one comes by looking for it by the time you go off, put it in the lost and found.”

now pierre had joined the little group. he stared down at the little purse. “singular, “ he remarked, “most singular.”

“what is singular about it?” farmer brown asked.

“it reminds me of something that happened to me, in paris, just after the hostilities.”

“and what might that have been?” the farmer raised his eyebrows.

thus encouraged, pierre began to tell his tale.


it was a dark and windy night. i was crossing the pont de n——— on my way to the boulevard de s———— when i spied a woman’s small black purse beside the railing. one, if memory serves, identical to the one we see before us.

you may ask, why would i spot something so insignificant in the darkness? there was nothing extraordinary about it, my friends.

for as i was crossing the bridge i was not looking at the brooding sky, or the dark river, but at my feet, in hopes of finding a sou, a coin of any kind, or the most trivial object i might redeem at a pawn shop.

i was cold and hungry and in desperate straits, as desperate as any man’s who has ever lived. but that is neither here nor there.

i snatched up the little object, as quickly as if i had been fighting with a dog for it, though there was in fact, neither man nor beast on the bridge with me.

as i suspected, the purse was empty. but might i not get a sou or two for the purse itself from a pawnbroker? i in fact knew one member of the brotherhood of the three balls who might, out of pity, and because i was a regular habitué of his establishment, give me enough for a half glass of wine.

as the shop in question was just over the bridge, i hastened to it, and found my old friend pere gustave just about to close for the night.

he inspected my find with his professional disdain, and i was ready to begin the requisite bargaining, when he extracted from it something i had not noticed.

a tiny scrap of paper, which had been stuck in the lining, and which he briefly inspected.

with a grunt, he handed to me.

“whoever finds this purse,” i read, “and returns it to me, will find themselves most generously rewarded. “ it was signed “madame de t——————, 1108 rue de b——————.”

the rue de b——————, i should add, was on the other side of paris.

pere gustave shrugged. “what do you think?” he asked me.

“but there is nothing in it!” i cried. “surely whatever was worth the reward has been extracted. “

“so it would seem,” he agreed.

“the purse itself might be carried by any grisette, “ i continued. “it is hard to imagine anything of value being in it.”

pere gustave looked me in the eye. “it is up to you,” he said. “i would not want you to think i am taking advantage of you. you may take it to the rue de b———— in the morning, and take your chances.”

“or - “ i said.

“i will give you two sous for it right now.”

“the two sous!” i cried a bit too eagerly.

“as you wish.” he closed the purse and placed it beneath his counter.

“but, “ i added, “do you mind if i keep the note? it will make for a good story.”

“as you please.”

and so i departed, and happily made my way to the nearest wine shop.

the next day was bright and sunny, and as i had nothing better to do, i decided to make my way across the city to 1108 rue de b————.

although i had nothing but the paper, perhaps my curiosity might be satisfied as to the nature of the reward, if there really had been any. and for what had the reward been offered ?

1108 rue de b———— proved to be a formidable private residence of the old school, but as i had nothing to lose, i made my way to the front door.

the door was opened by a redfaced old maidservant, a relic of the old paris, an ogress who might have served in the court or camp of king clovis.

i showed her the scrap of paper from the black purse. but before i begin my explanation, she handed it back to me with a loud laugh .

“this matter has been settled,” she told me. “another fellow was here before you - with the actual purse in question.”

pere gustave, to be sure. i was mildly surprised. “and what was the result of his visit?”

“i an afraid that is no business of yours, my good fellow. off with you!”

i stiffened. “is madame de t—— at home?” i asked in my most refined manner.

“no, it happens that she is not,” the beldame laughed in my face. “now, be on your way!”

intrigued as you may imagine by all this, i found my way back to pere gustave’s shop.

and found it closed! i had never before found it closed during the hours of daylight.

i went back the next day, and the next, but again found the shop closed.

i never heard from, or heard about, pere gustave again.

nor could i ever obtain any information about the mysterious madame de t——.


“and that’s it?” jake asked pierre.

“yes, my friends, i am afraid that was it.” pierre sighed. “ i have often wondered what the moral, if any, of the story was.”

“why,” exclaimed farmer brown, “the moral is obvious! a bird in the hand—“

“to be sure,” pierre replied. “but what was the bird, and did i have it?”

“you know,” said nolan, who had not seemed to listen to pierre’s tale with much interest, “ a funny thing happened to me once involving a lady’s purse - back in the old 12th precinct - “

“let’s hear it!” insisted farmer brown. roland and jake nodded.

but before nolan could begin, roland glanced meaningfully at jake, and jake had to go back outside to clear the sidewalks of the snow, which had begun to fall more heavily.