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.
the thin man looked up from his endless game of solitaire to see dick richmond hovering around the bar yet again.
“have another drink, richmond,” he snarled. “one more won’t kill you.”
“thank you, sir.” dick richmond flushed slightly. he was already pretty flushed.
as he poured his drink he thought, does he really have to be so nasty about everything?
and as he took a sip of the drink he thought, but i am an attorney, a rather high priced attorney at that, who makes a good living taking abuse from wealthy clients. what is there about this fellow that he gets under my skin so much?
the thin man affected a lot of people, not just dick richmond, that way.
sylvester mcdonnell jefferson, known as “the thin man”, was an embittered individual.
in his not so distant youth he had had one goal - to be, and to be recognized as, the richest man in the world.
that was all. he didn’t want to rule the world, he didn’t want to change the world or start a new religion,he didn’t mean no man no harm, he believed in live and let live.
all he wanted was to be the richest man in the world.
it was not to be. he came close a few times but it was just not to be.
but that was not all.
even if he was not recognized as the richest man in the world, he felt he should have some attention paid to him.
he had been young, not hideously ugly, one of the ten or twelve richest men in the world, and he could tip headwaiters at the stork club or 21 with the best of them.
but could he get a line in a gossip column? no.
not even from the lowest of the low, harry hobble of the new york progressive-sentinel.
the end had come one night at the parrot club, lou renaldo’s joint that he was trying to make a rival to toots shor’s.
sylvester was at one of the front tables, with marion dilworth, a young actress who had just made her debut to resounding success in the latest play by charles marcus turnwell.
also at a front table was the international playboy ali sanchez, with the slightly fading but ever glamorous film star adele marchmont.
that harry hobble or bert stafford of the federal-democrat would find ali sanchez more worthy of note than himself was annoying but understandable, even though ali sanchez was not even an american.
what could you expect? after all, the federal-democrat was a mouthpiece for stalin, and the progressive-sentinel for the rothschilds.
also in the house, but discreetly seated against a side wall, was the international jewel thief stanley slade, along with a young actress who was quite unknown compared to marion dilworth.
and both harry hobble and bert stafford mentioned slade in their next day’s column along with ali sanchez but not himself, sylvester!
a jewel thief! a common criminal!
it was as if a door had suddenly opened for sylvester, exposing both the darkness of the universe and the perfidy of the human animal.
sylvester was crushed. he had to confide in someone, and at his next tete-a-tete with marion dilworth, at a discreet little private club in the north bronx, he poured out his frustration.
marion was amused. mildly amused, but amused.
“that is the way it is, my dear friend,” she assured him in her combination british-dixie accent. “that is how it has been since the world began, or at least since walter winchell wrote his first column.”
“but it isn’t right - i am worth tens of millions and harry hobble and bert stafford are creatures from the gutter. and this slade - a common thief!”
marion shrugged. sylvester realized, not for the first time, that he was boring her. “well, “ she drawled, “this jewel thief personage was with hyacinth wilde, after all.”
“and who might she be?”
“a young woman with sharp claws and bright eyes on the main chance - reputed to be quite the person to watch on broadway this coming season. this slade person must not be the jealous type, because she has her hooks in much bigger fish than him.”
sylvester just nodded. he realized that marion had little sympathy for his plight.
and if she did not, who would?
this was a turning point. sylvester gradually withdrew from the bright lights and became an increasingly embittered recluse.
years went by.
sylvester harbored and nursed grudges. harry hobble and bert stafford and the other gossip columnists were beneath him, but he kept his eye on ali sanchez and the other international playboys who found their favor.
and slade and his ilk . sylvester became obsessed with criminals who gained any slight fame or were accorded any glamour by the press.
he waited for a chance to get his own back at them.