Three well-heeled villains terrorize New York’s high society in pursuit of a rare and powerful gem
The society pages announce it before she even arrives: Griselda Satterlee, daughter of the princess of Rome, has left her career as an actress behind and is traveling to Manhattan to reinvent herself as a fashion designer. They also announce the return of the dashing Montefierrow twins to New York after a twelve-year sojourn in Europe. But there is more to this story than what’s reported, which becomes clear when the three meet one evening during a walk, and their polite conversation quickly takes a menacing turn. The twins are seeking a rare and powerful gem and they believe it’s stashed in the unused apartment where Griselda is staying. Baffled by the request, she pushes them away, but they won’t take no for an answer. When they return, accompanied by Griselda’s long-estranged younger sister, the murders begin...
Drenched in the glamour and luxury of the New York elite, The So Blue Marble is a perfectly Art Deco suspense novel in which nothing is quite as it seems. While different in style from her later books, Dorothy B. Hughes’s debut highlights her greatest strengths as an author, rendered with both the poetic language and the psychology of fear for which she is known today.
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About the Author
Dorothy B. Hughes (1904–1993) was a mystery author and literary critic. Born in Kansas City, she studied at Columbia University and won an award from the Yale Series of Younger Poets for her first book, the poetry collection Dark Certainty (1931). After writing several unsuccessful manuscripts, she published The So Blue Marble in 1940, winning praise for its terse, hard-boiled prose.Hughes published thirteen more novels, the best known of which are The Fallen Sparrow (1942), Ride the Pink Horse (1946), In a Lonely Place (1947). All three were made into successful films. In the early fifties, Hughes largely stopped writing fiction, preferring to focus on criticism, for which she would go on to win an Edgar Award. In 1978, the Mystery Writers of America presented Hughes with the Grand Master Award for literary achievement.
Otto Penzler, the creator of American Mystery Classics, is also the founder of the Mysterious Press (1975), a literary crime imprint now associated with Grove/Atlantic; Mysterious Press.com (2011), an electronic-book publishing company; and New York City’s Mysterious Bookshop (1979). He has won a Raven, the Ellery Queen Award, two Edgars (for the Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection, 1977, and The Lineup, 2010), and lifetime achievement awards from Noircon and The Strand Magazine. He has edited more than 70 anthologies and written extensively about mystery fiction.
Read an Excerpt
The So Blue Marble
By Dorothy B. Hughes
MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 1940 Dorothy B. Hughes
All rights reserved.
Her dress was black and her coat, with its black fox collar, but at night no one would know the fox was real. Her hat didn't look as if it were a creation. Not at night, not with her pale horn-rimmed glasses; no one would look twice at a girl with glasses over her face.
Fifth Avenue was lighted, not with neon as Broadway, but it wasn't dark. Off the crosstown bus at Fiftieth, past the Cathedral, dark, yes, but there were people walking towards her and away from her, a young couple, students returning from a Carnegie concert, a goodly dressed man with heavy English brogans striding past her. And the windows beyond were light, the cosmetician's with the white down pussy cats pretending to grow on real pussy willow branches, the window of hand-created silver, the silver-etched imported china— bright candles on a bright street.
Only five blocks to Fifty-fifth, only a half block down with a great hotel on the corner and chipmunk taxi drivers waiting for the carriage trade. Her key ring was tight in her black gloved hand, her black antelope purse tight under her arm.
No reason to feel nervous at night, not even at eleven-thirty at night, in the heart of New York. Nothing ever happened to her kind of people; things happened to people living down those cross streets in old red bricks or old brownstones. Things threatened silver and gold dancers there in the Iridium Room across. But things didn't happen to her or anyone she knew.
Five short blocks and the sound of her black heels striking the walks. There were other sounds but she didn't hear anything but the heels. The other walkers didn't seem to notice that hers were too loud. She crossed Fifty-fifth, turned down her side of the street.
One delighted voice said, "Griselda! Fancy seeing you!"
The other one was laughing. "We thought you'd never come!"
She could see the tall silk hats, the shining white scarves, the dark coats, the sticks under their arms. Even in shadow she knew she had never seen the faces.
She was pleasant although wary. "I'm afraid you've made a mistake." Princeton boys or Yale, with a bit too much. But one had called her by name, by her own name.
One of them laughed. "Why, Griselda, how you talk!"
The other said, "And you so late for your appointment!"
"And we so patient."
They were moving her down the street as soldiers moved a condemned man. There wasn't a policeman. There never was at night in this neighborhood, by day yes, riding his fine horse, keeping traffic moving, but not at night. And Con was thousands of miles away.
She spoke insistently, "There's some mistake. You know there is. You've never seen me before."
They laughed uproariously. They had nice laughs, college boy laughs. She almost laughed with them, they were so merry. But each had a hand, ever so softly, under her elbow and she couldn't stop walking. They were moving her, even while they laughed, down the street to the two half-lighted windows, in one a swath of printed silk, in one two antique vases and an ostrich plume. If you turned between the shop windows, you went down a slightest incline to the door. It was locked at six. You opened it with your latch key, stepped into a small parquet vestibule; you rang for the elevator and waited. It was a self-running elevator, like in hospitals and old French pensions. Maybe that was why she was nervous, hearing her heels noisy on Fifth Avenue at night. She didn't like the feel of being shut in that elevator. But nothing happened to her kind. You pushed the four button and the car stopped at four. And then you were safe in Con's apartment, looking out of the windows, down at the cabs below, looking across the street where tall silk hats and furs came out of a great hotel.
She could say to these two, "Listen to me! A joke is a joke, boys, but you know that you don't know me and I don't know you and I want to go home now. If you don't stop this nonsense I'll speak to one of the drivers."
Suppose they didn't stop it? She could even speak to the taxi drivers. And suppose they just laughed too, or ignored her, thought she was crazy? She knew what she would do, walk past that entry way, pretend she lived farther on. Cross Madison, on the corner another hotel and a brightly lighted cocktail bar. She'd go in there and speak to someone. She didn't want to speak to the taxi drivers.
They were at the entrance to Con's. She moved her feet straight ahead, kept her eyes straight ahead, but two gloved hands gently on her two elbows veered her to the door.
She said, "You're making a mistake. I don't live here."
They laughed softly and the one on her left said, "You wouldn't fool us, would you, Griselda?" while the other opened her hand and took away her keys. He had the door open and held it for her. She didn't know what to do. She could run. She could scream. But she couldn't do either. She was afraid. It was a dream and whatever she did there would be one on either side of her making her turn their way. But this couldn't be real. She'd never seen either of them before.
If she could reach the bells and push Gig's. He might be at home although he wasn't usually in this early. But one stood between her and the bells.
She was almost tearful with helpless rage. "I don't know why you're acting this way. You don't know me. You know you don't."
Hands walked her inside. Others closed the door. They were on either side of her again and one rang for the elevator. She could hear it creaking its way down the shaft.
One said to the other, "I don't think Griselda likes us."
The other put out his lower lip. "I don't know why. We like us."
They had such nice faces, as much as she could see of them, with the hats tilted over their eyes, the scarves high to their chins.
One held the elevator door. The other said, "You first, Griselda," but his hand was still soft on her arm white she stepped in. They followed, closed the door. One pushed button four.
She was cold now. "I don't know what this is all about. I don't know how you found out my name or where I'm staying. But I do think you're carrying a joke too far."
She had a fleeting suspicion that perhaps this was Con's idea of sport, or Gig's. But not Gig. He was too serious. Whatever it was she didn't like it. The elevator stopped. One was out; one behind her. One opened the door of her apartment, Con's apartment. They were inside, the door closed, the lights on. She stood in the middle of the floor watching them remove their tall hats, their white kid gloves, their white silk scarves, black formal overcoats; watching them lay down their sticks with the old-fashioned gold knobs topping them; watching them until they stood there, between her and the door, fashion plates in tails, white ties, opera pumps.
And only then was she really afraid, and for such a fantastic reason. Because one had honey-colored hair, sleek to his head, and one had bat-black hair; one had very blue eyes and one very black; one had the golden tan coloring of blonds and one the olive tan coloring of brunettes. But outside of that they looked exactly alike, unbelievably, frighteningly, alike. It was as if an artist had taken the same photograph and colored one dark, one fair. They were identical twins. And she was afraid.
The dark one was lighting a cigarette. The light one pulled up a comfortable cushioned chair. It was between her and the door. The dark one said, "Con won't mind if we have a drink. Will you join us, Griselda?"
She didn't answer but her fear ebbed. They did know Con. And they knew the apartment because the dark one opened the door into the tiny cupboard kitchen and she could hear bottles and glasses. She took off her coat then, standing there in the middle of the floor, and her glasses. They were such handsome men and she'd forgotten about wearing glasses. She put these on the mantel. The blond one took her coat and he opened the enormous closet of the living room, hung it on a hanger. She couldn't get to the entrance without passing him and even if she did it took two hands to turn that special bolt and open the door. She wasn't frightened now anyway. It was one of Con's jokes, something he considered funny.
The twin in the kitchen called out, "Bourbon or Scotch, Danny?" and the blond one came away from the closet.
"Bourbon, if it's good. Otherwise no. And what will you have, Griselda?"
She put her bag and gloves and hat on the table and sat on the couch. Danny sat beside her. She said, "I'll have a glass of sherry." He passed her a cigarette from the box on the table but for himself took one from a case out of his pocket. His cigarette was a French one with a small gold D engraved on the tip. The letter really was engraved. She knew without feeling it.
He called back, "Griselda will join us with a glass of sherry, David."
He was the best-looking man she'd ever seen until David came in with the drinks and then he was. They both were. David sat in the easy chair that Danny had placed. Danny remained beside her on the couch. But she wasn't afraid now. She sipped the sherry.
She spoke lightly, "Won't you tell me now what this is all about?"
David drank. "Not bad Scotch. How's the Bourbon, Danny?"
"Not bad at all."
"Did Con plan this? And why? Tell me about it." She was eager now to know. "I was frightened at first when you spoke to me and came in here. Who are you?"
They laughed again, those joyous laughs of theirs, and she laughed too, and then she stopped with something like a shiver. She didn't know why. Maybe because David was looking into his glass and his face wasn't laughing. Only his throat was. Maybe because she couldn't see into Danny's blue eyes. They were like jewels, not real.
He said, "Still pretending you don't know us, Griselda?"
She put her wineglass down and she sat very straight and stiff. "I don't know you." It seemed as if she'd been saying those words for hours. "I've never seen you before. I don't know who you are. You don't know me." She was a little hysterical. "Are you friends of Con's? You must be. Are you? What are you doing here?"
David pretended to sigh. "You aren't very hospitable, Griselda."
She was near to tears again but she buffeted them. "If you don't tell me right away what this is all about, I'll call the police."
Danny said, not too quickly, but easily, "I don't think you'd do that, Griselda."
David spread his thin hands, steel hands, you could tell. "What would you tell the police? Two young men escort you home, enter your apartment with you, the door opened by your own key, join you in a quiet drink. You couldn't say we were housebreakers nor disturbers of the peace. You could say we attacked you, I presume, but you'd have to tear yourself up a bit first We wouldn't lay hands on you. And even then—"
She knew she was beaten. They wouldn't permit her to call the police anyway. She said, "You win. I'll be good. What do you want?"
David said, "We've just come to get our marbles."
Danny said, "That's all. Then we'll finish our drinks and leave you."
Then David looked at her and she was frightened again. His eyes, too, were jewels, not real, oblong black stones. You couldn't see into them nor beneath them. He smiled. "We want our marbles. In particular one marble, a very blue one."
Danny was pleasant "We don't care about the others. Just give us our very blue marble and we'll go."
She held to her nerves. Maybe it was a dream, or maybe she was shut up in a crazy place. She wouldn't let go, scream and laugh and cry the way she wanted to. She tried to be natural, to be matter-of-fact. She couldn't help laughing a little.
"I haven't your marbles. There aren't any marbles here. You can look."
They didn't say anything.
She said, "I'll buy you some tomorrow when the stores open. I'll send you some if you wish me too. I'm sorry I haven't any for you now."
The dark David had stood up and he walked over to her until he was right in front of her. She was so frightened, for no reason, that she was shaking. He said, "We only want one marble, Griselda. The very blue one."
She screamed then. She didn't know why. Something about his eyes that were so dark, so opaque. Three things happened at once. She screamed. Danny's thumb and forefinger caught her wrist not softly now, but as if they were pincers. And someone pounded on her door. Three more things happened. She stopped her scream, Danny's fingers were on her knee, and there was a call, "Griselda, are you home?"
David spoke softly, "You answer it Griselda."
She was afraid to walk to that door, her back to the twins, but she did. She didn't hurry but she wanted to.
And outside was Gig, not six feet tall, not black handsome, nor golden handsome, not in evening attire. Just Gig, hardly taller than she, nondescript hair not combed very well, round spectacles over his round gray eyes, his old tweed working jacket over his pajamas, a book in his hand. She almost flung her arms around him. Gig, nice, sane Gig.
He said, "I didn't know you had company. I heard you come in and I'd just found that passage—"
She spoke rapidly, shrilly, on top of his words. "Come in. I'm not at all busy." She clung to his arm, pulled him inside. When she turned, the twins had their sticks under their arms, their hats on their heads.
Danny said, "We're just leaving."
David said, "It's been fun seeing you, Griselda."
They had their coats, their scarves, their gloves as they spoke.
She sidled Gig and herself past the door, leaving it wide for them.
Danny echoed, "Great fun, Griselda. See you soon."
"See you soon," David agreed.
They closed the door behind them. She heard them open the heavy elevator door; it was waiting, no one had used it since they had come up. She heard the whine of the machinery taking the cage downward. Only then did she release Gig's arm. She plopped down on the floor and began to laugh and cry, to cry and laugh.
Gig said, "stop it! Stop it, Griselda!" He looked so utterly bewildered, woebegone, she laughed harder, cried harder. But she choked out, "Bolt that door. Lock and bolt that door."
He told her, "It is bolted. It bolts itself, Griselda. Are you crazy?"
She hugged her knees. "I think I am. Somebody's crazy. Or everybody's crazy." She couldn't stop the awful noises she was making.
He said, "You've got to stop it. You'll make yourself sick." Then he had an idea. He went into the kitchen and poured out half a tumbler of Scotch. He knelt down and pushed it op to her mouth. She drank it. It made her choke but it quieted her.
He helped her up from the floor to the couch. "Now can you tell me? What's happened?"
She said she didn't know. She began, "Does Con play mar—mar—mar—" Then she started laughing again but she stopped herself. She couldn't say it without laughing. It was too ridiculous. Leggy Con, on the floor shooting marbles.
Gig was troubled. He begged, "Try and tell me, Griselda." He was so sane. "Or don't if you'd rather not."
She caught his hand. "I want to tell you. Let me have a cigarette first. Then maybe I can make sense."
He found the box, as usual he had only a smelly pipe in his pockets, and lit her cigarette.
She leaned against the pillows. "I'll tell you. I've been nervous ever since I came, Gig, all this past week. I don't know why. Every night I've been sort of—well,—frightened—coming home from the theater, or from Ann's. Whenever I've been out alone, I've been—well, just plain scared."
She didn't expect him to understand. He didn't. He blinked behind his spectacles. He wasn't an imaginator.
She explained, "Not really scared, Gig. Just uneasy." She twisted on the couch until she could see his face. "Do you suppose something inside of us has premonitions—warns us to be careful? And yet if anyone had definitely told me, I'd have laughed. I'd have told them what I told myself. Things don't happen to people like us."
He was packing his pipe. "Well, they don't happen to people like me. But I'd say from what Con has told me that quite a lot has happened to you in your twenty-four years."
"Oh, that. I don't mean that." She was impatient. "I mean things like—horrible things—" She shivered a little.
He was startled. "Was tonight horrible?"
She could tell it now, although it didn't sound horrible, nor even as insane as it had been in happening. She told of the corner meeting, the entrance, all but the marbles. She couldn't speak of that yet.
He asked, puzzled. "They called you by name? And you didn't know them?"
Excerpted from The So Blue Marble by Dorothy B. Hughes. Copyright © 1940 Dorothy B. Hughes. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com.
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