by Horace P. Sternwall
Originally published in “Chilling Crime Tales”, December, 1950; republished for the first time in book form in “Mr. and Mrs. Big”: The “Gwendolyn and Auntie Margaret” Stories of Horace P. Sternwall, Vol. 8, the Olney Community College Press; edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Associate Professor of Hardboiled Literature, Olney Community College.
Original illustrations by rhoda penmarq for penmarqonomiq™ productions, ltd.
(Click here to read the previous Gwendolyn story; go here to return to the very beginning of the saga.)
“Would this be Mr. Bartolomeo ‘Big Bart’ Baccini speaking?”
“Yeah. Who wants to know?”
“You don’t know me, Mr. Baccini, but I have a proposition for you which may be to our mutual benefit.”
“Who the hell is this?”
“As I say, I am no one you know.”
“You got a name?”
“A name. I am afraid I would prefer not to give you my name, Mr. Baccini.”
“You got a proposition for me but you don’t want to give me your name.”
“That is correct, Mr. Baccini.”
“Then what I’m supposed to call you, sister?”
“Call me – Mrs. Big.”
“You wanted a name, I gave you one.”
“All right, ‘Mrs. Big’, give me one good reason why I shouldn’t hang up on you right now, on account of I am a very busy man.”
“You should not hang up on me because it was my gang who rubbed out Jimmy Mazzaro and his four top boys.”
There was a silence on the other end of the line, and Gwendolyn used this pause to take a sip of her hot cocoa and gaze through the glass door of the phone booth out at the crowded vaulted expanse of Grand Central Station.
Then Baccini’s voice came through the line again.
“Nobody ‘rubbed out’ Jimmy and his boys. It was a gas explosion from a faulty stove.”
“So the official report said,” said Gwendolyn in her husky “grown-up” voice, modeled after that of her Auntie Margaret, and speaking through the lace handkerchief Auntie Margaret had got her just this past Christmas, with her initial “G” in red and gold embroidery. “I wonder how much it cost you, Mr. Baccini, to have Jimmy’s death and that of his four goons declared an ‘accident’?”
Another pause, and Gwendolyn took another sip of her hot cocoa from its paper cup. it was nice cocoa, but not as nice as Schrafft’s cocoa.
Then Baccini’s voice spoke again.
“Okay, sister, who you working for?”
“Who am I working for? What makes you think I am working for anyone?”
“Because you’re a dame, and you sound like a young dame. Come on, ‘Mrs. Big’, who is your Mr. Big?”
“Do you really think I’m going to tell you my real name? Or the name of my ‘Mr. Big’, even if there were a Mr. Big? After I just told you it was my gang that turned Jimmy Mazzaro and his boys into so many human Roman candles?”
“Are you with Maxie Goldenberg’s crew?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?”
“You’re with the West Side Boys then, right? Jackie O’Hara’s mob?”
“Do I sound Irish?”
“Wait – is this the Five Points Gang?”
“You can keep naming colorful gang names all night, and my answer will be the same, Mr. Baccini. As far as you’re concerned I am Mrs. Big.”
Again a pause.
Gwendolyn heard Baccini say something to someone on the other end. Was he arranging to have the call traced, through his contacts on the police force or at the telephone company? Go ahead, Mr. Baccini, because how many dozens of phone booths were being used this very moment in this enormous station, and who would ever suspect this innocent-looking twelve-year-old blonde girl, probably calling home to her mother saying she had just missed her train after her ballet class but would surely catch the next one?
And then Baccini’s voice came through the receiver again.
“Was this because of that Tommy Sullivan business? Was it? Because I had nothing to do with that. I told Jimmy to lay off Tommy. In no uncertain terms I told him he was to lay off Tommy on account of we had had a long-standing arrangement with that Irish son of a bitch, you should pardon my French, but it’s the truth. So if that’s why you took Jimmy out, that was between him and you. Far as I am concerned the matter is settled with Jimmy’s, uh, accidental death.
“I am glad you feel that way, Mr. Baccini.”
“Good, so goodbye, Mrs. Big, and good luck in all your future endeavours.”
“But you haven’t heard my proposition,” said Gwendolyn.
“Your proposition,” said Baccini.
“Yes,” said Gwendolyn. “May I continue?”
There was another pause, and then Baccini spoke:
“Go ahead, Mrs. Big. I am listening.”
Gwendolyn came out of the phone booth. The gang were all there: Elizabeth and Ruth, Sluggo and the Monkey.
“Twig anything funny while I was on the phone?” Gwendolyn asked. “No suspicious characters? No cops?
“Nah, we kept a good eye out,” said the Monkey. “Nuttin’.”
“Good,” said Gwendolyn. “And now – how do milkshakes and cakes at Schrafft’s sound? On me.”
“Sounds great!” said Sluggo.
“But, Gwendolyn dear,” said Elizabeth. “You must tell us. How did it go with this Baccini fellow?”
“He turned out to be fairly reasonable, for an Italian,” said Gwendolyn. “The upshot is the ‘tea’ trade in the Village and the Bowery is ours. His crew will take over Jimmy Mazzaro’s territory in Little Italy and points south.”
“Do you trust him?” said Ruth.
Gwendolyn drank the last bit of her cocoa, crumpled up the cup, and tossed it into a waste basket.
“A better question, Ruth, might be: can Big Bart Baccini trust us?”
The gang laughed as one at Gwendolyn’s bon mot.
Then they headed off to Schrafft’s for delicious milkshakes and cakes.
(This is a slightly revised version of a story that originally appeared, with artwork by the world-renowned rhoda penmarq, in New Tales of the Hotel St Crispian. Click here to read the next Gwendolyn story!)
(Our editorial staff has taken another 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 this year as an e-book and maybe even a book made out of paper. An all-new thrilling episode of Arnold’s epic will appear here next Saturday!)