"i have a few little items here that have come my way. maybe you can give me your opinion of them.”
hyacinth wilde prided herself on her ability to read people. especially her ability to read those transparent creatures, men.
she carefully watched phil wheeler’s face as he looked over the jewelry she had selected from the cache in stan slade’s trunk, which he had left in her safekeeping.
stan had left it wth her several years ago, but it was only a few months ago that he had opened it and revealed its contents.
but poor stan was back in the pen for a good long stretch, and the jewels were not doing him or anybody else any good. hyacinth had taken it on herself to at least find out how much good they might do anybody.
phil wheeler had a pretty good poker face - which was only to be expected considering the kind of guy he was - but hyacinth thought he looked a bit surprised at the items - some rings, pendants, brooches - that she showed him, as if they were better than he had expected.
but when he looked at the last item - a medium sized golden pearl. not set in anything, in a small plain wooden box, that hyacinth had hesitated about bringing - the poker face almost vanished, and a flash of genuine consternation appeared on his smooth face.
hyacinth waited for him to say something.
phil wheeler pushed the little box with the golden pearl to one side. he pointed to the other items.
“this is good stuff. really good stuff. i don’t suppose you want to tell me where you got it.”
“i’d rather not,” hyacinth replied evenly. “of course, you are free to guess.”
“ha ha. well, this is a little too much for me to handle personally. but i can tell you who might be interested.”
“ever heard of manny caruso?”
“i might have. i hear so many names.” hyacinth was mildly annoyed, but didn’t show it. i go to this character, she thought, he sends me to this manny person, will manny just send me to someone else?
aloud she said, “do you think this manny will actually give me something for them - if he likes them, i mean? does he actually deal with these things himself?”
phil seemed mildly surprised by her question. “oh yes, manny - manny is the guy to go to. if you have really good stuff. he was a good friend of stan slade’s, but i suppose that’s neither here nor there.”
“no, it isn’t. do you have a number for manny?”
“yes.” phil wheeler produced a card and a small pen. the card read “philip wheeler - dealer in specialties” with the motto “finding anything for anybody”. he uncapped the pen and wrote something on the back of the card.
hyacinth took the card and glanced at it. he had just written manny caruso’s name and a gramercy phone number.
“thank you.” she nodded at the little box with the golden pearl in it. “i notice you sort of set that aside.”
“yes, yes, i did. this is - different. if it is what i think it is.”
“well - uh - if i tell you it might sound kind of dramatic.”
“that’s all right, drama is what i do for a living.”
phil looked down at the box. “well, if, as i say, this is what i think it is, it could get you a lot, really a lot of money, - or - “
“or it could get you killed.”
hyacinth laughed. “how dramatic.”
“what did i tell you? but i’m serious.”
“and would our friend manny be interested in it - even though it might get him killed?”
phil shrugged. “i can’t speak for him - but i don’t think he would. i really don’t think he would.”
“in that case , what would you suggest?”
“what would i suggest? i tell you, if this thing was in my possession, i would consider throwing it in the river, or maybe tossing it in a trash can in the subway.”
“ha ha. if you don’t mind my saying so, that sounds like kind of a scaredy-cat attitude. “
phil did not look offended. “i just don’t think the odds of getting anything out of it are worth the risks.”
“this thing must have quite a story attached to it.”
“it has a lot of stories attached to it - i probably haven’t heard half of them.”
“all right. but just suppose i wanted to take the risk - or if i’m just curious - then what?”
phil hesitated. “i can only think of one person who might be interested, that you might want to try to get to. mister carbo - ever hear the name?’
“it doesn’t mean anything to me. so do you have his number?”
“no, i do not have his number. he might not even have a number. but i can put you in touch with a guy who might put you in touch with a guy who might put you in touch with mister carbo.”
phil’s card was still on the table and hyacinth pushed it toward him.
phil took his pen back out and wrote some more on the card. “this is eddie miller’s number. tell him you want to get to mister carbo. but i would appreciate it if you didn’t say i gave you his number. you can if he insists, but i don’t think he will.”
“this mister carbo sounds very mysterious,” hyacinth said. “does he live in a castle somewhere, on a mountaintop or in the middle of the desert?”
phil laughed. “he just might.”
“or on an island in the middle if the ocean? surrounded by bodyguards with scimitars in their belts?”
suddenly hyacinth felt tired. what a lot of nonsense, she thought. she would phone manny caruso, but all this rigmarole with mister carbo - who could be bothered?
“you’ve been very helpful,” she told phil wheeler. “what did i owe you for your trouble?”
“oh, nothing, nothing. if you work something out with many caruso, and he makes something out of it, he will take care of me.”
“oh come now, who knows how long that will take? i wouldn’t want you thinking i was a cheapskate who wanted something for nothing, or telling people i was. how does five hundred sound?”
“if you insist.”
“come around to the hotel - the hotel st crispian - make it the day after tomorrow. i will leave an envelope at the front desk for you.”
“thank you, that’s very generous.”
“i see we have both managed to finish our drinks. one for the road?”
“oh, by the way, “ hyacinth said, when they had their fresh drinks in front of them, “if i do try to contact this eddie miller, what would i say i had? would he know what i was talking about? does the thing have a name?”
phil took a sip of his drink. “yes, it has a name. the ‘golden gumdrop’.”
mister carbo was slightly agitated.
he got up from his polished desk and stood and looked out the picture window of his office.
at the rolling gray waves of the atlantic crashing on the pebbled shore of his island.
he felt the full weight of his solitude.
mister carbo was the loneliest man in the world.
with the loneliest job in the world.
he was the ruler of the world - or at least, the agent of the real rulers of the world.
in the digest of world news that had been brought to him that morning, a small item had caught his eye .
one that affected him “personally” as few things did.
his old enemy sylvester mcdonnell jefferson - “the thin man” - whom he had managed to forget about for so many years - had been found dead.
under the proverbial “mysterious circumstances”, of course.