The Winner of the 1999 Third Annual Imitate Keeler Competition:
The Crack in Yee-Fat's Lavender Skull
A Keeler Homage
by Tom Stewart
To Hazel Goodwin Keeler, whose prosaic stories caused some of the stranger cut-and-paste novels of our hero, her husband and greatest admirer, Harry Stephen Keeler. Salute!
The light of a match! The Lucifer light, the sulfur stick that holds back the black, velvet-curtained night, night that grips secrets better than any dead Chinaman, that tiny burning torch illuminates many things! Things hidden even in the bowels of Chinatown, the Chinatown of Chicago (that London-of-the-West!). But Brandon Fourth-Misterworth didn't have time to contemplate the burning match in his closely manicured fingers. No! His thoughts were elsewhere. Not on the many things that were to be his future: not on his uncle, Ezlar Benweld Fourth-Misterworth and the fate that was to befall him that night, not the cracked, grinning skull of a long dead chink that had acquired a most shocking un-natural color, nor on the tall girl, Foldina, the Contortionist, and the suitcase that she lived in to save her threadbare pocketbook the humiliation of having to pay out money it didn't possess, not the long lost relative who held the secret of his birth, not the twisted, sneering visage of Sam Scrilette, knife specialist and sworn enemy of all who held the skull of the Chinaman.
All this, and more, was to come, but none of that, as stated, (now, dear reader, here most of our younger writers would insist on having someone shot. But we shall gently turn the plot without that 'easy-out') was in the thoughts of young Fourth-Misterworth as he adjusted his black four-in-hand tie and held his match closer to his watch, the watch given to him as a promise, a promise of time, of the time of waiting, waiting for freedom. Fourth-Misterworth still pulled away from people, turning his head from the terrible chance of recognition--even here, here on the windy streets, the maze of hovels and shops that is Chinatown, they knew of the Jefferson Mutual Trust and Savings 'embezzler'. Innocent! Convicted! Branded. And though now released, he was forever damned. Was this the freedom he'd longed for? The freedom that he and cell-mate for the five years of confinement Jack Kerswage had scratched off on the walls of the 5 by 8 granite box that was their home, keeping count of every second till the arms that waited would encircle him? No. No! Freedom was the giver of that watch, the pale little girl with the inky, nightsky black ringlets, the deep clear blue eyes, eyes that Brandon Fourth-Misterworth longed, no, needed to see to be able to breathe, to live, to be free, even here in the dark of a Chicago starless night.
"Hey, bo', lemmee drag offo' dat lit' youse got litted up like dat dere." Brandon startled, then breathed the slow breath of the just-released, new-four-dollar-suit-and-bus-ticket ex-con. The rough sailor, his greasy hat pulled low over his forehead and resting on his large grizzled ears, held a stub of a 'cheroot' to his rubbery lips. Brandon smiled. The man had to have been a 'con', a guest of the state, a student of penal reform. It took another 'stir-bird' to tell. Fourth-Misterworth held out the match.
He didn't see the creeping friend of the sailor, or feel the sap until several hours later.
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