Sunday, April 10, 2011

1. slade busts out

by horace p sternwall

art direction by rhoda penmarq

illustrated by roy dismas


"you should take a look at the new gazette, miss."

"oh?  did i perform last night? or at a matinee this afternoon?"

"no, miss.  you spent a quiet evening here at home. and very pleasant it was."

"i thought i remembered doing that.  so, why should i read the gazette?

"according to the screaming headines, mister stanley slade has busted out of the state pen."


"mister stanley slade, the international jewel thief.   the one who stole the flower of madagascar for you.  you remember."

"of course i remember.  i remember having to give it back.  with the most dreadful publicity."

"why, you always say there is no dreadful publicity."


"especially in this bright new modern world."


"and you know, of all the men you've used and tossed aside over the years, i always thought mister slade was the one - maybe the one - you had the most genuine feeling for."

"you are such a romantic.  no, i am afraid mister stanley slade was, and is, just another manfellow."


"just another manfellow."



"a lovely evening, mister nolan, simply lovely. you should get outside and enjoy it,  not sit here in the depths of the lobby. "

"i believe we have had this conversation before, mister brown.  invisibility is my stock in trade.  no place better to practice it than here in the depths, as you put it, of the lobby. "

"but the bright lights, mister nolan, the bright lights!"

"what about the bright lights?  the bright lights of broadway are neither natural nor salutary, and are surely the most overrated phenomenon in this sad man-made universe."

"but they do provide light, do they not?  do they not dispel the most ancient of enemies, darkness?    surely even your miserable metabolism can absorb a little bit of light, mister nolan.  why, i almost didn't see you sitting here."

"oh?  if there is someone you can talk to, mister brown,  your eagle eyes will find him.  in any darkness."

mister phineas "farmer" brown chuckled good naturedly and assumed his favorite pose - back on his heels with legs apart and thumbs hooked in his vest.

"well ,sir, i do like to think i can talk to just any body - any body at all, sir."

"talk to miss charlton then.  and spare me the pleasure. "

"miss charlton?"  farmer brown turned.  "ah, miss charlton.  good evening, good evening.  a lovely night, eh?  i was just trying to persuade our friend mister nolan here to go out on the world famous boulevard and enjoy some of  its splendid sights."

"indeed?  well i for my part am happy mister nolan is not lost outside as i have something to show him."  miss charlton reached into her capacious handbag and took out a copy of the evening gazette.  "have you seen this, mister nolan?"

"no, miss charlton, i have not.  what does it contain, that appears to have agitated you so?"

"why, it contains the news that the celebrated jewel thief mister stanley slade has busted out of the state pen, that's what it contains!"

"and are you personally acquainted with mister stanley slade, miss charlton, and concerned for his safety, with so many dogs on his trail?"

miss charlton emitted a wheezing little laugh.  "there was a time, not so long ago, mister nolan, when your misguided raillery might have caused the tiniest shock to my poor withered frame. but no longer, no longer - i hope i am not being too rude if i say that the greasepaint of your clown mask is beginning to let in the light.  but - but - "  she waved the gazette in nolan's impassive face - "all jesting aside, the guests - and i say with calm assurance that i am indeed  speaking for the guests - would like to know exactly what steps will be taken to safeguard our possessions -and our peace of mind - from this contumacious blackguard."

nolan considered about  half a minute before replying.  "has the great state of new york put a price on the head of mister slade?  i can assure you they will, whether this is mentioned in the gazette or not."

"i didn't read every word of the story."

"who wrote it, that miserable hack foley?  i can understand your not reading every word."

"i know you have had your disagreements with mister foley, but he has won every prize available to journalists."

"prizes - the infallible testament to mediocrity."

"quite a statement," exclaimed farmer brown.  "even for mister 'negative' nolan."

"be that as it may," nolan continued, "there will be a reward for slade.   the state penitentiary is four hundred desolate miles to the north.  so where will he go?   here, where every lobby sitter and shoe shine boy knows him and will turn him in as soon as they work up the energy to move their torpid carcasses - or the greener pastures of chicago, london, palm beach, hong kong or monaco?"


"exactly what, miss charlton?"

"that's exactly what he wants you to think."

farmer brown pushed his straw hat  back on his head and cleared his throat.  "she might have a point, nolan.  the one thing you can expect from stan slade is the unexpected.  time and again he has confounded the police of six continents by doing the exact opposite of what by lights all he should. why, he may be waltzing merrily  across the abandoned cornfields  on his way  here now, as the dogs bark  and helicopters spin on his trail from sing sing to singapore."

"well then, what you call the unexpected is now the expected, is it not? so now he will do the unexpected and head for paris and london."

"mere sophistry, mister nolan, mere sophistry," miss charlton replied.  "i had hoped to find you a man of deeds, not words."

nolan responded to this by taking a cigar case out of his suit pocket.

"in my opinion," miss charlton continued, " in my opinion he is headed to buenos aires.  the duchess of a------- is there now, presumably with the star of kali in her jewel case - the target of targets for any jewel thief."

farmer brown spoke up again.  "your point about hong kong and london is well taken, nolan, but consider - the rich pasture of havana is right in his way - not to mention rio de janiero - if he decides to go to buenos aires.  and he would come here to get a fast packet."

"and moreover,"  miss charlton shook the gazette at nolan again, "moreover, none other than melissa margrave - the incomparable miss melissa margrave - is now appearing at the new colonial theater in rio de janiero."  she regarded nolan with a look of triumph.  "and as the whole world knows, it was slade's mad passion for her which led him risk all to attempt to steal the ruby of d---------- from the countess of p------."

"resulting," murmured farmer brown.  "in the fiasco of his arrest by the combined forces of sheriff john brown and mister bud russell."

"and i have no doubt - no doubt -" miss charlton continued, "that it was his infatuation with miss margrave that induced him to escape from sing sing in the first place!"

"yes, of course," nolan answered, after carefully clipping the end off a cigar.   "i am sure slade would have been perfectly content to live out his days swapping yarns in the yard at sing sing with the dregs of nine continents - if he hadn't had the beacon light of miss margrave's junoesque charms to lead him on."

"you are not a romantic at heart, mister nolan.  but of course we already knew that."

"in any case, i had no idea that the respectable patrons of the hotel st crispian were so well acquainted with the motives and opportunities of the international criminal overworld."

miss charlton sniffed.  "i do pride myself on keeping up with what goes on in the world."

"so this is all news to you, mister nolan?," farmer brown asked.

"no, i had already been informed by the d a.  now, this has been a most illuminating conversation, but at the end of the day , the chances of stan slade appearing here at the hotel st crispian are as remote as ever, as remote as anything in this world."

"the other guests and i do not recognize 'very remote' - we prefer certainty.  we like the sound of 'absolutely not'.  we wish to know what steps will be taken."

"every step possible, miss charlton, every step possible."

"really? and can you give us your word, mister nolan, that we are perfectly safe?  or need we have recourse to the district attorney's office to restore our sense of tranquility?"

"i give you my word as a gentleman and a house detective that neither your property nor your peace will be disturbed."

"excellent."  miss charlton put the gazette back in her bag.  "when you have finished your no doubt extensive arrangements in this matter, you might take mister brown's advice and go out on the boulevard.  because it really is a lovely evening."



Dan Leo said...

Another long-lost Sternwall masterpiece finally unearthed! Really spills the beans on the steamy and unsavory shenanigans of the typical big-city hotel of today!

Unknown said...

sternwall and dismas? a masterpiece, yes, but so like the inimitable Dan Leo and rhoda penmarq it's uncanny.