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MYSTERY CRIME CLASSICS: THE MOUNTAIN COMES TO MOHAMMED by Amelia R. Long | GBAMLOG.COM

CHAPTER 1

RIGHT UNDER YOUR STUPID NOSES

Detective Sergeant Forbes made a gesture of exasperated frustration with his big hands.

“I tell you, Mr. Carter, Donovan or Greene or I have had Louie under our eye every minute of the day since you first put us on the case,” he protested to the district attorney; “and at night one or the other of us has camped outside the door of his hotel room and peeked through the keyhole. If he’d contacted Landis, we’d have seen them.”

“That’s right, Mr. Carter,” Detective Donovan affirmed earnestly. “That guy hasn’t even been to the men’s room without one of us tag-gin’ along; he just couldn’t have met Landis without us knowin’.”

“He just couldn’t have, but he just has,” District Attorney Jeff Carter amended with deadly calm. “Or maybe you two think he pulls those phony tens and twenties out of his hat, the way a magician does rabbits. Louie and Landis are meeting somewhere, and meeting regularly.”

His voice rose to a sudden roar. “What’s more, they’re doing it right under your stupid noses. Now get back on the job, and this time try tailing Louie with your eyes open; you can tell Greene the same goes for him.”

The two detectives muttered hasty “Yes, sirs,” and departed from the district attorney’s office with an air of injured dignity which implied that they considered themselves unjustly impugned.

When the office door had closed behind them, Jeff spoke to his younger brother Stephen, who had been slouched sideways with his feet dangling over the arm of the visitor’s chair while he waited for the district attorney to be ready to go out to lunch. “I’ve never known Greene or Donovan —let alone Forbes—to fall down on a simple assignment of this kind before,” he remarked; “yet the facts prove they’ve slipped somewhere. But I’m hanged if I can figure out where.”

Stephen pivoted about on the end of his spine until his feet came to rest upon the floor in front of him. “Just who are these chaps, Louie and Landis, Jeff?” he asked.

“Counterfeiters,” the district attorney answered. “Lonesome Louie Madden pushes the stuff— gets it into circulation—and isn’t especially important. But Big Ben Landis is the brains of the gang; that’s why I want to use Louie to lead us to him. Naturally, the Federal men are working on the case, too; but they’re leaving this particular angle of it for my office to handle, and I’d like to show them we can make good. Only for some reason that’s a complete mystery to me, the best men on my staff seem unable to follow a trail that must be as broad as the back end of a Mack truck.”

“Maybe Landis is passing the money along to Louie through some other member of the gang,” Stephen suggested.

Jeff shook his head. “Landis doesn’t operate that way,” he replied. “He claims that the middle man is the weakest point in a counterfeiting ring—which is pretty much the truth—so he doesn’t use one. He manufactures the stuff himself, from engraving the plates down to the actual printing, and doles it out to two or three legmen, who pass it on small purchases, and turn what they get in change back to him—less their commissions, of course. He never gives any of them more than a few hundred dollars at a time, for fear they may get ideas about skipping out and going into temporary business for themselves. That’s how I know he must be contacting Louie practically every other day or so. The thing that’s got me beat is, how does he do it?”

“Could be he’s leaving the stuff somewhere for Louie to pick up,” Stephen offered. “Say a box in the railroad station, for instance.”

“I’m afraid that’s out, too,” the district attorney said. “I’ve got the daily reports hare from Forbes, Donovan, and Greene ever since they’ve been on the case.” he gestured toward a manila folder of papers on the desk in front of biro, “and not one of them so much as mentions Louie’s having gone anywhere near a railroad station or any other place where he could pick up a package that might contain two or three hundred dollars in phony tens and twenties. All he does when he goes out is stroll about the center of town for an hour or so and make a few small purchases with his phony money. I can’t let it go on much longer; yet if I pick him up now, I’ll lose the only chance I may get to catch Landis.”

Maybe Landis is wearing a disguise when they meet.”

Jeff smiled briefly, also ironically. “It would be easier to disguise a hippopotamus than Big Ben Landis,” be observed. “The man must ‘weigh over three hundred pounds. But let’s forget about him while we have lunch.” He reached for his own hat on the clothes tree in the corner, then tossed Stephen his. “I don’t want my appetite spoiled.”

Stephen caught the hat with one hand and placed it at a rakish angle upon his dark head. With the other hand, he picked up the folder of reports from his brother’s desk, and took it with him.

CHAPTER 2

A LITTLE, FRIENDLY CALL ON LOUIE

Late in the afternoon, having a free hour or so, Stephen went over the reports carefully in the privacy of his own law office. He learned from them two things that he considered significant. The first was that every morning at exactly ten-thirty, Lonesome Louie left the cheap hotel where he was staying to go for a walk, during which he merely strolled aimlessly about for an hour or so, then returned to the hotel; the second was that he repeated this procedure every afternoon at exactly one-thirty. Stephen smiled with satisfaction at the reports. They had told him precisely what he wanted to know.

That evening during dinner, he brought up the subject of Lonesome Louie and Big Ben Landis. “What would you say, Jeff,” he began, “to my going along with Sergeant Forbes tomorrow morning when he goes on duty?”

The district attorney looked up suspiciously from his plate. “What for?” he demanded.

“I think I know how we can make Lonesome Louie lead us to Big Ben Landis.”

Jeff snorted skeptically. “This isn’t a problem in deduction, Steve,” he pointed out. “It’s a matter of routine tailing that doesn’t call for any fancy mental gymnastics, but just for ordinary police training and practice; which Forbes has had, and you haven’t. If he hasn’t been able to spot the way Louie makes contact with Landis, how can you expect to do it?”

“Still, I don’t guess it’d do any harm if I tried,” Stephen persisted.

Jeff was forced to concede the point.

The following morning Lonesome Louie was temporarily disconcerted upon descending from the unclean flea-bag that was his room, to find two tailers instead of the usual one waiting for him in the lobby of the hotel—especially when he recognized in the smaller of the two the younger brother of the district attorney. But his generally lugubrious countenance relaxed in a confident grin when, as he sallied forth, both Stephen and the big sergeant fell into step behind him in the usual way.

“You see, Mr. Stephen,” Forbes said, discouraged, after they had played a kind of shadow tag with Louie for the better part of an hour, “he doesn’t meet anybody or do anything worth battin’ an eye at. He acts more like a man who’s just out to kill time.”

Stephen smiled in agreement.

“Forbes, how right you are!” he murmured, but he didn’t sound in the least discouraged.

Louie continued to lead them a merry, if somewhat leisurely, chase for another half hour, then he headed back to the hotel.

This time, instead of taking up their former position on the scuffed leather bench in the lobby facing the staircase and the perpetually out-of-order elevator, Stephen waited until the man they were tailing had disappeared from sight up the stairs; then he began to follow.

“We’ll just pay a little, friendly call on Louie,” he remarked to the sergeant. “I’ve a notion this is his time to be receiving company, although I don’t guess he’ll be expecting us.”

When they unceremoniously flung open the door to Louie’s room, the enormous fat man who was there with Louie sprang up with a violence that sent his chair crashing over backwards. His hand made a quick jab toward his hip pocket, but stopped midway when he saw the muzzle of Sergeant Forbe’s police automatic trained upon him.

“Okay, Landis,” the sergeant said with grim satisfaction, “you can reach, but it’s not gonna be for anything you can touch.”

CHAPTER 3

THE MOUNTAIN

Back in the district attorney’s office an hour or so later, Stephen lolled in the visitor’s chair and cocked one leg indolently over its arm. “It was all perfectly simple, Jeff,” he drawled. “I spotted it as soon as I read those reports, and noticed that Louie went for a walk every day at exactly the same time in the morning, and again in the afternoon. After he’d left the hotel —with Forbes or Donovan or Greene, as the case might be, following—Landis simply walked in and waited in his room for him to come back, when he gave Louie a fresh supply of the counterfeit money and collected his share of the real money Louie had got in change when he passed the phony bills. Then, when Louie went out for his afternoon walk, Landis left again. It was all perfectly safe and, as I said before, perfectly simple; so simple that I’d have spotted it even without reading the reports.”

“That,” Jeff stated flatly; “I don’t believe.”

Stephen smiled with the bland ingenuousness that always set his older brother’s teeth on edge. “But it’s true, Jeff,” he protested. “If Louie wasn’t meeting Landis—and it was plain that he wasn’t, or Forbes or one of the other men you had tailing him would have spotted them—then the only other way for them to make contact was for Landis to meet him. You all made the quite natural mistake of expecting Mohammed to go to the mountain, whereas,” his smile became even more ingenuous, “this was one of the rare instances in which the mountain came to Mohammed.”

~ THE END ~

TRUE MYSTERY: WALLPAPER by Ken DaSilva-Hill | GBAMLOG.COM

This is an absolutely true story, and I am telling it for the very first time.
I used to work as a fine art restorer and conservator, but my remit was far wider than just paintings and sculpture. As a specialist in contemporary art and specialist materials, my work involved everything from art to zoology through mosaics, kinetic art, electronics and lapidary. Over the course of nearly forty years I either restored or conserved for the future many works by world famous artists, many objects now on display in the worlds greatest museums and palaces, and also worked for many VIP’s and celebrities from rock and rollers to royalty.
There are many unusual stories that I could tell from these years but the following is probably the strangest and most intriguing, so here we go.
I was once called in to estimate for performing some restoration work in an eighteenth century private mansion in a very famous London square, not so very far from Harrods in Knightsbridge. The house is a large and imposing Georgian building over five floors, the typical ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ home which, in it’s heyday, employed a Butler, Footmen, Chef and myrid other servants to look after a large rich family who lived in opulent circumstances. Two world wars had thined out the residents of the house however, the toll of war is hard on family life and England had changed forever, it would never be the same again.
By the nineteen eighties of course, the butler and footmen had gone and the remaining family members were now reduced to actually working for a living, and largely looking after themselves, although still hanging on to their upper class ideals in many ways.
The house had been somewhat neglected, since world war two had left it with fewer family and staff, with the upkeep on these large london mansions being a huge millstone around the necks of the owners they scraped by with just the minimum of paid staff.
But, by the nineteen eighties there was some new money around, and the house was slowly being worked on, being refurbished and redecorated room by room.
The job that I was called in to look at involved a very large room which had originally been a ballroom. One could imagine the dances and ball’s that had once graced its interior, with the ladies wearing their finest clothes and the men in white tie and tails as they walzt the nights away.
This room had originally been very finely decorated with long brocade drapes at the tall wide windows, there was carved and gilded details to the scaglioni faux marble pillars, which were surmounted by gold leafed ceiling panels and architraves. It was absolutely splendid and in generally good condition if somewhat shabby.
The broad walls were hung with fine Chinese silk, this was stretched in the usual way over wooden lathes fixed to the wall beneath, the seams and joints carefully arranged to allow the design to flow across the wall without interuption. The skill which was needed to achieve this perfection is hard to describe, but one imagines a team of nineteenth century workers putting great craftmanship and not a little love into their work, to complete this effect of luxury. Sadly now as I looked, the silk was fadedd, loose in a few areas, dirty and stained in others and needing some new love to bring it back to life.
In cases like these, we conservators try hard to save everything possible, replace with new the minimum, and to treat the materials with great respect and reverance. We are like doctors looking at a fragile patient. We try to do no harm.
The light blue of the silk was now faded around the window reveals to a pleasant grey blue which set off the beautiful design of an oriental landscape, with small pavillions scattered across rock strewn gardens of cherry blossom and bamboo, reminiscent of that of fine porcelain.
Investigating the corner joints, I discovered that the vertical seams had been carefully inserted into slots cut into the wooden lathes and scured with narrow silk covered fillets. It would be fairly easy to release the silk from the frame, although great care would be needed in the full removal.
One wall seemed to have had a previous restoration, as the silk was somewhat looser in the stretch and part of the pictorial design did not quite match. I took reference photographs, made measurements of the wooden framing and many notes about the condition of the walls and wall coverings in regards to the windows and doorways.
Well, within a week an estimate was prepared, along with a working plan and materials list, and was submitted to the owners of the house. I heard no more for about eight months, in fact, just as I was giving up hope of ever getting the job.
Yes, we had the contract, we could go ahead as soon as we could arrange the work to fit in with our present commitments.
I visited the mansion again to make final arrangements, taking along a young lady conservator who was to do the preliminary work. She was delighted to be involved, and I had much faith in her ability to do an excellent job.
We started in early June, the weather in London was beautiful that year and the house was virtually ours, as both the family and their small staff had left for holidays in Italy. Only the hired caretaker remained, more of a live in security guard really, as his care taking duties were light, so we rarely saw him.
After a few days we had made inroads into removing the silk from two walls, each panel carefully photographed as it was taken down, whilst a condition report was prepared for future use, and diagrams made for the refitting.
At this point I was calłed away to an emergency situation in a gallery in the south of London, trying to save as much as I could from a fire which had ripped through after a poorly placed halogen spotlamp had set fire to a curtain. My assistant carried on at the mansion, I have always had full trust in her and was confodent that the job would go swimmingly.
Dealing with the fire damaged art was both messy and time consuming, but we got stuck into the job and concentrated on saving what we could.
A few days later, I recieved a frantic call from the office, could I go immediately to the mansion as there was some sort of problem, the reason was not stated as my assistant wanted to have me take charge of the situation.
I arrived early next day, and Lucy
asked me to come up to the ball room. She had removed almost all of the silk and the battens, carefully numbered were neatly stacked in the center of the dance floor. Only one wall of silk remained in place, the wall that had had evidence of earlier work. The other walls were now all cleaned of cobwebs and the light yellow of the plaster glowed in the sunlight from the windows.
Lucy had already told me that there was an unusual texture under the remaining silk, and now as I peeled it carefully back I could see that the wall was covered in a patchwork of small paper rectangles which had been distempered over. In some places there was evidence of mould and flaking of the surface.
We removed the remaining silk and battens, working carefully to do no damage to the wall beneath.
With the silk covering folded, and the battens numbered and stacked, we looked closer at the wall. In one section a paper rectangle was loose on the corner, so very gently and taking great care we gradually eased it away from the wall. It took nearly an hour to remove, but came away undamaged. On closer inspection it seemed to have something written upon it, but the distemper on one side and the thick mould on the other made it difficult to see. I placed it into an acid free envelope, and Lucy took it back to the workshop that evening, and handed it on to our paper restorer.
Two days passed, with me back at the fire scene, and Lucy having a short break with family. Then I got a call from the office, what did I want done with the fiver?
It turned out that after working on the paper rectangle for a couple of days, the paper restorer had discovered that under the mould and distemper, the rectangle was actually an old English white paper banknote. A five pound banknote!
I called Lucy, and put her in charge of removing the rest of the rectangles from the wall, and arranged for the paper restorer to be on hand to help with the job.
He set up a small on site workshop and lab in the ball room, so that each banknote could be processed on site. In total three and a half thousand five pound notes were removed from the wall. It took the best part of six months to process them, with only six being deemed to fragile to save. Of course, the family were delighted with our find, even more so when the notes, presented at The Bank of England, were paid out in full face value. Seventeen thousand pounds, had been pasted onto the wall, but by whom?
Various ideas were put forward, but we suspect that the notes had been pasted onto the wall either at the time of the Wall Street crash of 1928, or had been hidden away there at some time during world war two, possibly for safe keeping by a family member who subsequently sadly died in the conflict. Whatever, it made the present family extreemly happy to have an unexpected windfall of money, which would be worth in excess of a quarter of a million pounds in todays money, taking inflation into consideration.
Well there you are, a most unusual find and a most unusual true story.
So, next time you move house or redecorate, be careful how you remove the wallpaper or covering, because I suspect that this was not the only hoard of banknotes safely stored for the future in that way.

 

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