hyacinth wilde looked around the dark, cozy dining room of the three butterflies.
the three butterflies was a new, very small restaurant a bit off the beaten path on east 63rd street. joe slattery, the noted broadway producer, had suggested it for their meeting as a place where they would likely not find theater aficionados or tourists who would want hyacinth’s autograph or otherwise disturb them.
hyacinth lit a cigarette as a busboy removed the remains of the main course.
joe was looking across the table at her with a touch of nervousness.
“that was very nice, joe. very nice.”
“yes, it’s always a pleasure when these new places turn out as advertised. and a bit of a pleasant surprise. heh, heh.”
“new. new is good, right? in with the new - and out with the old, eh?”
joe laughed nervously. “you have been talking to artemis boldwater and angus strongbow.”
“no, i have not,” hyacinth replied. “they have not been returning my phone calls - the dirty rats. i was almost starting to think they were avoiding me.”
“well, they have been busy, i am sure. artemis’s new play - “
“yes, blossoming midnight. excellent title, don’t you think?’”
“well - angus is quite excited about it, at any rate. but he feels strongly that it needs work, and he has been driving poor artemis like a circus animal - “
“what kind of work?” hyacinth interrupted. “writing out the female lead?”
“ha, ha. not exactly.”
“then what, exactly?”
“actually, artemis is strengthening the female lead. and even more to the point, he is strengthening the part of the older sister - “
hyacinth smiled. “ah, the truth revealed at last - and i am to play the older sister, no?”
joe hesitated. hyacinth was taking this much better than he expected. “in a nutshell - yes.”
hyacinth, still smiling, stubbed her cigarette out in the ashtray. “go on.”
“artemis - at angus’s urgings, you understand, has made the lead almost an ingenue part - and - well we all agreed that constance waterbury - you’ve seen her, of course, and met her - would be perfect - “
“indeed i have met her - a charming child. but here is our coffee and dessert.”
the waiter put a big slice of chocolate cake in front of joe and a small dish of vanilla Ice cream in front of hyacinth and began pouring coffee for each of them.
hyacinth pointed to her ice cream. “i will have another one of these,” she told the waiter. “and with hot chocolate sauce on it.”
“yes, miss. would you like some chocolate sauce for this dish, too?”
“no, thank you. that won’t be necessary.” hyacinth began stirring cream into her coffee and the waiter departed.
joe was delighted that hyacinth was taking the news so well, but did not want to come right out and say it. instead he said, “i am sure you will enjoy working with constance.”
“and giving her the benefit of my long years of experience.”
“why not?” joe answered a bit uncertainly.
hyacinth laughed. “what did you think i was going to do, joe? make a scene, start throwing things, in this nice little place? say the usual things about miss waterbury - that she looks fourteen years old, that she looks like a boy? no, no. everything is fine. it’s all cool, daddy-o, as they say down on 52nd street.”
joe relaxed a little. “i knew you’d be a professional.”
“yes. and since we are being professional - i assume, that at least this time, i will get the same money i would have gotten as the lead.”
“of course, of course. i mean, as far as i am concerned. but i will have to talk to the backers. to the backers. i don’t have to tell you how tight things are now for dramas, even by artemis boldwater, what with all these musicals springing up like mushrooms -“
“right, right.” hyacinth took a spoonful of her vanilla ice cream.
“and as for billing,” joe went on, “you will be billed right below dan foster, with ‘introducing miss constance waterbury’ below. you know the drill.”
“yes, in big letters. i know the drill.”
joe smiled. “so we are all set, then.”
“all set.” hyacinth looked up. “but there is just one little thing, one little favor you can do for me.”
“and what might that be?”
“see if you can find phil wheeler for me.”
“you must remember phil wheeler. he was one of those guys who was always around, back during the war and just after. one of those guys who knew everybody, who could always fix things up, get things done.”
“I’m - i’m not sure.”
“you must remember him. he was a friend of stan’s.”
“stan?” joe asked innocently.
“yes, stan. stan slade. stanley slade, the jewel thief. the notorious international jewel thief. who, as they say in the funny papers, busted out of the hoosegow, got captured, and is now back in. that stan slade.”
“oh, yes, i remember.” joe had thought that stan slade was not to be mentioned around hyacinth. “i remember him, my dear, if you do.”
“good. and i am sure you can find phil wheeler for me.”
“i will do my best. that’s all i can promise.”
“fair enough.” hyacinth finished her ice cream and put the little spoon in the little dish. “drink your coffee before it gets cold, joe, and eat your cake before it gets stale. everything is going to work out.”
the waiter returned with hyacinth’s second dish of ice cream.
after a while, perci returned with a suspiciously short length of rope.
buppo thrust the rope at joto. “no more talk! go, my fine hero!”
joto virtually tore the rope from buppo’s hands before he could change his mind.
buppo looked around the shaft with a sly smile. “now, my hero, all we need is something firm to peg the rope to, eh? do you see anything?”
joto slammed his pick into the floor of the shaft. it only went in a few inches.
the villainous kardo laughed. “that is not very good, prince. here, let a man try.” and he slammed his pick into the floor, but with about the same success as joto.
“we are wasting time,” growled buppo. “tie the rope to one or the other. here - “ he pointed to kardo’s’s pick - “this is closer to the hole. let us proceed.”
joto tied one end of the rope to kardo’s pick and the other around his waist.
perci tried to protest. “you should use the one further from the hole, because the leverage - “
“enough!” cried buppo. “are you ready?” he asked joto.
without another word joto lowered himself into the hole.
he knew right away that there was nothing beneath him.
here was his chance. his chance to somehow escape from the mines, to somehow reunite with his beloved green star.
he let go of the rope.
what joto and the others did not know was that a tremendous earthquake, unprecedented in the history of the empire and probably triggered by the very enterprise - of the mining for the golden pearl at the heart of the earth - that they were engaged in, had just erupted and that the capital and the surrounding countryside were being reduced to powder even as joto fell into the center of the earth…
joto seemed to fall forever…
and when he awoke…
he was in a small boat drifting down a dark tunnel. at first joto thought he was alone in the boat, but then realized it was being piloted by a little hunchbacked woman.
she looks like a witch, he thought. i must have died, and now i am in the twenty-seventh circle of the underworld, the one populated by hideous witches and gorgeous dragon-women.
suddenly the boat bumped to a stop. they had come to a rise over which the water only trickled, not enough to carry the boat.
the witch got out and began walking down the tunnel, with the boat-pole over her shoulder.
“should we drag the boat?” joto called after her, but she did not answer or look back.
he hurried after her. the tunnel got darker and narrower, then completely black.
joto thought he could he hear the witch scurrying along in front of him, or could he?
suddenly he saw something shining by the side of the tunnel. not a lantern, but something lying on the ground.
as he got closer, it almost blinded him.
it was the pearl! the pearl of armon-mu!
cosima woke up.
pete was still running on with his ridiculous story about the pearl of gumma-goober or whatever.
cosima was a very well-bred person and one of the best bred things about her was the ability to sleep with her eyes open and an expression of polite interest on her face, when the occasion called for it.
pete paused. was it for dramatic effect, or had he noticed that she had been asleep?
cosima smiled. “this is all very interesting, pete. why don’t we take a little break? get up, stretch our legs, freshen our drinks?”
“sure, if you like.”
“did i just hear the front door open?” cosima asked. she stood up.
they could hear voices on the floor below, and then coming up the stairs.
“that must be conrad,” cosima muttered. “i hope he is alone, but he probably isn’t.”
the voices got a little louder.
“it sounds like that damned ramirez fellow,” cosima sighed. “what a bore.”
“ramirez?” pete asked. he looked toward the door. “ramirez? not - “
“he calls himself frisco johnny ramirez,” said cosima. “does the name mean anything to you?”
in the prison library, the afternoon went by. lombardo spent about twenty minutes looking through the art section and finally found a book to his liking - john addington symonds’s life of michaelangelo. he checked it out without he or slade mentioning their earlier conversation, and left the library
with lombardo gone, there was no one left in the library except doc phillips and slade.
slade picked up the book - think and grow rich, by napoleon hill - that lombardo had left with him. he had not wanted to look through it with lombardo still in the library because he didn’t want lombardo asking him any questions about anything he might find in it. not that he really expected to find anything .
lombardo’s - or his friend gray’s - message was either going to be apparent right away or slade was not going to bother with it.
he flipped through the pages. there was a faded newspaper clipping stuck in the middle of the book.
slade took it out, after looking up to make sure no one had just entered the library.
the clipping was not as old as he had thought at first glance.. but it was smudged, as if it had been wet and then dried out. the top of the page with the name of the paper had been cut off.
it was obviously a back page story in a small town newspaper. the headline read:
local lass expounds lapidary lore
"miss sandra stevens, known familiarly as “sandy” to patrons of the local post office and library, turns out to have a most interesting hobby - researching the histories of “fabulous gems”, especially those supposedly with curses on them, or with other tales of disaster attached to them.
sandy enthralled those who showed up at her talk at the smith street branch library with some rousing yarns about several colorfully named gems - such as “bluebeard’s beauty” and “the flower of madagascar” - but the one that aroused the greatest interest was the “pearl of armon-mu” otherwise known as - and this got the biggest chuckle of the night from the enraptured audience - “the golden gumdrop”.
according to sandy, the “golden gumdrop” first surfaced during the crusades - when king richard the lion-hearted accepted the pearl as ransom for a thousand infidel princes he had taken captive in a great battle outside jerusalem. however the pearl was lost again when king richard granted an interview to a young princess of the infidels who was pleading for the release of her brother - the most wicked of the infidels whom the pope wished to interrogate personally as to the exact dimensions of hell. when the princess was ushered into the heroic monarch’s presence, she immediately turned into a demon, put a spell on him, and made off with the precious pearl.
the pearl next appeared in the thirteenth century, when the celebrated friar roger bacon was reputed to have purchased it - with his immortal soul or “something of equal value” according to sandy - with an eye toward using it as the centerpiece of his alchemical studies. but he, too, had it stolen by a witch or demoness under circumstances which brought the friar to the attention of the holy inquisition.
slade skimmed through to the bottom of the page. there seemed to be more to the little story, but the clipping was not complete. if miss sandy had any ideas on the current location of the gumdrop, it was not in the article, or at least not in the clipping.
so what was the point of gray or lombardo giving him this? just to show that they knew there was such a thing as the pearl of armon-mu aka the golden gumdrop? was there more to come?
slade already knew all about the golden gumdrop - and the other jewels mentioned in the story, and the stories attached to them. as well as the stories about a lot of other fabulous jewels.
he made it his business to know. even if most of the stories - about demons and such - were hokum, it was always good to know them when you were trying to get them, or to sell them if you got them.
it all went back to his old mentor max jacob.
max had a little shelf of books in the back room of his pawn shop. the books he had on it were the bible, the koran, the sayings of confucius, the upanishads, bernal diaz’s history of the conquest of new spain, rasselas, and journey to the western islands of scotland by samuel johnson, candide by voltaire, the essays of macaulay, sartor resartus by thomas carlyle, and his favorite, the one he consulted most often - a two volume edition of the complete sherlock holmes.
it was from sherlock holmes that max derived the theory that he passed on to stan, that the brain could only hold so much information and only that which might benefit a person should be retained:
“You see,” Holmes explained, "I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones."
"But the Solar System!" I protested.
"What the deuce is it to me?" he interrupted impatiently; "you say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work."
so over the years stan had filled his brain up with information about famous and legendary jewels, especially those which might be turned to a profit under the right circumstances.
stan remembered everything he had ever heard or read about the golden gumdrop, including who might have first called it that - variously ascribed to john dillinger, jimmy walker, and william randolph hearst .
and the last person seen actually wearing it - mademoiselle pauline slivovitz, the fabulous but little known rival of mata hari, who had, among other things, singularly contributed to the success of poland against the bolsheviks in 1920.
and slade knew the most important thing of all about the golden gumdrop.
he knew where it was.
at least, he trusted that he knew where it was.
it was in a trunk he had left in the safekeeping of the celebrated broadway actress miss hyacinth wilde, in her suite at the venerable hotel st crispian, on bedford street, in new york city.