Saturday, July 16, 2016

“Best wishes for your speedy recovery”

“Best wishes for your speedy recovery”

by Horace P. Sternwall

Originally published in “Juvenile Crime Stories”, December, 1950; reprinted for the first time ever in book form in They Call Me Mrs. Big: The “Gwendolyn and Auntie Margaret” Stories of Horace P. Sternwall, Vol. 12, the Olney Community College Press; edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Assistant Professor of Mid-20th Century Popular Fiction, Olney Community College.

Illustrations by rhoda penmarq for the penmarq qonsortium™.

(Go here to read the previous Gwendolyn story; click here to return to the very beginning of
“The Gwendolyn Saga”.)

“Let me get this straight, Dooley,” said Captain Callaghan. “You want ten officers at three a.m. tonight?”

“A dozen would be better, sir,” said Detective Dan Dooley.

“A dozen men. At 3 a.m.”

“That’s right, sir, and if possible I think the men should be armed with shotguns."

“Shotguns,” said Callaghan.

“Yes, sir,” said Dooley. "And Tommy guns if we have them.”

“Tommy guns.”

“Tommy guns would be good, sir, provided the men are trained to use them.”

Captain Callaghan tapped his cigar into his ashtray. The cigar didn’t need to be tapped, but he tapped it anyway.

Then he fixed Dooley with the look all the guys in the Ninth Precinct called “the Callaghan look”.

“How about some Browning Automatic Rifles, Dooley? Would you like a few of them, too?”

“Do we have them, sir?”

For a long moment the Captain said nothing. Then he said:

“Six weeks you’re on this assignment and I hear bupkis. You know what bupkis is?”

“Yes, sir, I actually speak conversational Yiddish pretty well, because the neighborhood I grew up in –”

“Six weeks I hear bupkis from you, and then you stroll in here and tell me you’re planning World War III.”

“I believe I’m ready to make a major arrest, sir.”

“Mrs. Big?”

“Well, to be honest, no, sir.”

“Your assignment was to find this so-called Mrs. Big.”

“I know, sir, but I think I have a chance to arrest someone even bigger than, uh, Mrs. Big.”

“Bigger than Mrs. Big. Who, Uncle Joe Stalin?”

“No, sir. Bartolomeo Baccini.”

“Big Bart Baccini?”

“Yes, sir.”

“He’s untouchable.”

“He has been untouchable, sir, but I think I can nail him.”

“Nail him for what?”

“For accepting a cargo of approximately a hundred pounds of heroin, to be delivered tonight at 3 a.m. at the 14th Street Dock on the East River. By a tugboat.”

The captain stared at Dooley much as if Dooley had just declared himself to be a citizen of Mars, and then he said: “A tugboat.”

“That’s right, sir. The tugboat is getting the shipment from a Lebanese freighter docked in the harbor. Baccini and three of his associates are to pick it up at the 14th Street Dock tonight, where they will load it into one of Baccini’s bakery vans. They’re planning to take the truck and the heroin back to the bakery’s garage, where they will split up the heroin and then parcel it out to his dealers all over town.”

For a very long time the Captain said nothing. Finally:

“And how did you come by the information about this shipment of heroin, Detective Dooley?”

“A tip, sir. A confidential informant who came forward during my investigation into, uh, Mrs. Big.”

The Captain paused again.

“I can get you six men. And none of them are gonna be happy about it.”

“I didn’t expect they would be, sir.”

“We have two shotguns, and one Thompson. You trained on a Thompson?”

“Trained very well on a Thompson, sir.”

“You think two twenty-round mags will be enough for you?”

“I hope so, sir. Thank you, sir.”

“Oh, one more thing, Dooley. I can’t be putting a half-dozen men on overtime on wild-goose chases. So if this little shindig of yours turns out to be a dud, you’re off the Mrs. Big case and you’re back to regular duty, just like every other first-year detective.”

“I understand, sir.”

“And do me a favor.”

“Yes, sir.”

“If your little party does pan out, try not to let it turn into World War III.”

“I’ll try, sir.”


My Dear Detective Dooley,

I hope this missive finds you recovering well from your gunshot wound, and that you are not in too excessive a state of agony. But it must make you proud despite the inconvenience of what I read in Flossie Flanagan’s account in the Federal-Democrat described as a “dose of hot mafioso lead” that you have succeeded in ridding the earth of scum like Big Bart Baccini and his three goons as well as intercepting such a large quantity of illicit heroin and getting a commendation from the mayor himself.

I hope you enjoy the lovely bouquet of multicolored hyacinths. I picked them (please don’t ask from where, ha ha) and arranged them myself, so please do not waste your time trying to track them to a particular florist, as you know by now you are not dealing with an amateur, far from it, and I want you to know that I wish you a speedy recovery and perhaps someday who knows we shall again do business together, preferably something that won’t result in physical injury or death to yourself.

You will find in a folded piece of wax paper included in this envelope a “cigarette” of a brand which I know you will enjoy, and which will I hope bring you sweet dreams.

I remain, again with best wishes for your speedy recovery,

your admirer,

she whom you know only as,

Mrs. Big

Dan looked into the envelope, saw the rectangle of wax paper with a fat hand-rolled cigarette in it. He folded up the note, which was composed of letters and words cut and pasted from magazines, put it back into the envelope, folded the envelope in two, and put it into his pajama jacket pocket.

“Who was that letter from, Danny?” said Dan’s mother, looking up from her knitting.

“Just a concerned citizen, Mother,” said Dan.

“Aw, sure, that’s lovely,” said Mrs. Dooley.

“Yes,” said Dan. “Very lovely.”


The pretty twelve-year-old blonde girl in her smart blue coat and matching blue beret was sipping her hot cocoa at the lunch counter of the Schrafft’s down the street from the hospital, sitting where she could watch the door, when Roger came in, wearing his camel’s hair coat and grey fedora. The fedora made him look so much older than fifteen years of age, as of course did the false moustache he wore, and the horn-rimmed glasses. Smiling, he came over and took the stool next to Gwendolyn.

“So,” said Gwendolyn, “did he get the flowers?”

“Oh, yes, of course,” said Roger.

“I only wish I could have seen his face.”

“Oh, I’m sure he was very pleased, Gwendolyn,” said Roger, taking out his new gold-and-enamel cigarette case.

“You know I never wished for him to get plugged like that,” said Gwendolyn.

“Oh, I’m sure you didn’t, Gwendolyn,” said Roger. He lit his cork-tipped Turkish cigarette with his new Ronson, which matched the gold-and-enamel cigarette case.

“Fortunes of war,” said Gwendolyn.

“Yes, of course,” said Roger, picking up the menu card. “What should I order? I’m absolutely famished.”

“I can recommend the Welsh Rarebit here,” said Gwendolyn.

“Welsh Rarebit sounds excellent.” said Roger.


(This story appeared in somewhat different form in the November 5, 2014 number of New Tales of the Hotel St Crispian.)

(Our editorial staff is still feverishly preparing Volume One of
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