Saturday, January 30, 2016

“Gang War”

"Gang War"
by Horace P. Sternwall

Originally published in “’Real’ Crime Stories”, December, 1950; reprinted for the first time in book form in “Never Trust a Square John”: The “Gwendolyn and Auntie Margaret” Stories of Horace P. Sternwall, Vol. 7, the Olney Community College Press; edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Associate Professor of Forgotten 20th Century Fiction, Olney Community College.

Original illustrations by rhoda penmarq for penmarqitron™  productions, ltd.

(Click here to read the previous Gwendolyn story; go here to return to the very beginning of the saga.)

Dearest Pippi,

Do please accept my apologies for the alarming gap in our correspondence but when you hear all about what’s been happening out here and how busy I have been I hope you will understand. I also hope that my remissness in writing will be made up for to some small extent by the “little something” which you will find baked into the bottom of the chocolate babka which you should have received by the same post. Be careful with that babka darling as my Auntie Margaret’s friend Serge who made it from the recipe he says of his old family cook back in Russia has laced it quite liberally with this Russian liquor he likes called Nalivka quite tasty but the thing is he always mixes it with vodka and it is thus rather extremely alcoholic. So a word to the wise, no more than two thick slices of the babka at a time unless you want a dreadful hangover the next morning, something I learned the hard way believe you me when I wolfed down a third of the previous one Serge baked.

The “little something” is wrapped in wax paper but do mind that you in your eagerness don’t cut it in two or God forbid fork it down with the babka.

Oh my I have so much to tell you.

As I said in one of my previous missives I have been looking for ways to invest our gelt. At first I was thinking, well, maybe after all I should set up my own Shylock operation, without dealing through a middleman like the late lamented Tommy S------n, thus keeping all the profits for me and the gang. I put the Monkey and Sluggo on the case to bring me some “gen” on how to get into the business, but they soon reported back to me that the whole reason Tommy had been “rubbed out” was because of a dispute with this Jimmy Mazzaro character about who should run the “Shy” throughout Greenwich Village and Little Italy and the Bowery. You know me Pippa I don’t back down from a scrape, but then why look for trouble, especially from the Mafia, unless of course it really can’t be avoided?
So I looked for some other way to invest our gelt and that’s where these two grown-ups I told you about Sniffy and Rooster  come in.

I had already used them in two capers where we needed grown-up “fronts” and also to drive a car on the one job and a stolen cement truck in the other, and although they needed constant supervision they worked out okay because neither of them look like criminals and because they are both greedy as sin. The woman Sniffy looks like an ill-tempered scarecrow if you can imagine that and the man Rooster looks like a bank clerk with a nervous condition. I noticed that in order to calm their nerves before a job they liked to smoke what is called “weed” in the argot of the underworld. I asked them where they bought it and how much it cost and I must say I was impressed at the amount they paid even for a quarter-ounce of the stuff! Well, you know me, Pippi, no flies anywhere on or near me!

And so I got to thinking that there could be some real money in this "reefer" stuff, especially for a party who has so much “capital” already packed into hatboxes in the bottom of my Auntie’s closet, gelt that could be put to use making lots more lovely gelt.

To cut a long story short I told Sniffy and Rooster to find us a wholesale merchant of “weed”, and within a week we had ten pounds of the stuff fresh off a tramp steamer in from Panama. We hid the “stash” in a ventilation duct down in the basement of the hotel, accessible by removing a grill in the alleyway. It’s a very narrow duct but the Monkey is small and wiry and can easily crawl where no grown man could, so he is in charge of getting the stuff out.

I immediately put the gang to work “moving” it as they say and boy oh boy, talk about profits! Rooster and Sniffy did most of the selling, working the jazz joints and low bars of the Village and the Bowery, and using as their headquarters that place Bob’s Bowery Bar next door to where you and your poor mother used to live. I of course insisted that no selling would be done on the Hotel St Crispian premises. I mean to be honest a lot of the guests and staff there and all of the band Tony W-----n and his W---------s have become regular customers for our “stuff” but if they want to do business they have to go out to the alley or to the restrooms of the automat like everybody else, no exceptions.

After careful consideration I decided not to sell to the girls at Miss Churchill’s for the very good reason that those girls talk too much and couldn’t keep a secret if their lives depended on it. But on the other hand there was the boys’ prep school right across the street The Falworthy School filled with filthy rich spoiled boys and so Elizabeth and Ruth and I soon built up a very good trade with those blue-blazered hooligans, I’ll tell you.

But isn’t there always a fly in the ointment?

Things were going swimmingly for a couple of weeks and we were already getting ready to order another shipment, perhaps twenty pounds this time when unfortunately one night Rooster and Sniffy got “braced” as they say by Jimmy Mazzaro and three of his “goons” just as they were leaving Bob’s Bowery Bar.

Jimmy and his boys dragged poor Rooster and Sniffy into a car and it was only a short ride from there to some dark alley near the East River where they dragged Rooster and Sniffy out of the car and fortunately didn’t fill them with lead or fit them with concrete overshoes but they did beat up Rooster quite severely.

Then they told him he was not to sell reefer on Jimmy’s territory anymore. “Jimmy’s territory”! Who died and made him king of the Village and the Bowery that’s what I’d like to know. Then Jimmy asked Rooster and Sniffy who they were working for. Sniffy told me that Rooster blurted out without hesitation, “A little twelve year old girl named Gwendolyn!” and that was when Jimmy hit Rooster a really good one with a set of brass knuckles breaking his nose, and told him not to make a chump out of him. Then he asked Sniffy the same question and she admitted to me that also without a moment’s pause she said “A little twelve year old girl, her name is Gwendolyn!” and so Jimmy socked her a good one too, breaking her jaw. This woman really likes to talk, I’ll tell you, so Jimmy really hit her where it hurts that’s for sure.

Well, anyway, since Jimmy couldn’t get anything more out of these two, at least nothing he would believe, after beating them both up some more he just left them there in that alleyway, bleeding and groaning, and boy was I angry when Rooster called me the next day from the hospital with the news.

What would Napoleon do, I wondered, as I laid the telephone receiver back in its cradle.

To be honest Rooster and Sniffy are pretty annoying and tedious, but still they are members of the gang and a general has an obligation to her troops and also an obligation not to let herself be summarily cut out of a good money-making racket by some two-bit Italian thug Mafia or no Mafia.

I’m sure you have heard through the criminal grapevine at Rozensweig’s Home for Girls what happened next.

It was just two nights later, which was all the time I needed to carry out my bold plan.

An innocent conversation with Serge, pumping him for info about the proper way to make a “Molotov cocktail”, which he had used to some good effect as a partisan fighting the Nazis in the last war. A bit of reconnaissance on the part of the Monkey and Sluggo, revealing that Jimmy Mazzaro and his top lieutenants always played poker on a certain night in the back room of a certain Italian Social Club on Minetta Street, a game which often lasted to the early hours of the morning, but a game which on this night was brought to a sudden and fiery end by four Molotov cocktails thrown simultaneously through the rear window.

And that was the end of the Jimmy Mazzaro mob.

They won’t be missed.

Now I must fly as I have a geography test tomorrow and I haven’t even opened the book yet I’ve been so terribly busy.

Write soon.

I remain,

your pal,


PS Again I do hope you enjoy the chocolate babka dearie but remember no more than two big slices at a time and don’t forget that little something extra in the wax paper.


(This is a slightly revised version of a story that originally appeared, with artwork by the justly-famous rhoda penmarq, in New Tales of the Hotel St Crispian.)

(Our staff has taken a week off to work on the editing of the first volume
of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, which we hope to bring out sometime this millennium as an e-book and possibly even a book made of paper. An all-new thrilling chapter of Arnold’s saga will appear in this space at the usual time next Saturday!)

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