Wednesday, March 9, 2016

the golden gumdrop caper, part 17

by manfred skyline

illustrated by roy dismas and konrad kraus

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 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.

part 18

No comments: