THE FOUR HUNDRED’S LIST

By the year 1911, Squattedman has already become very popular among New Yorkers. However, he maintains anonymity. Therefore this situation is abused by too many unscrupulous guys who show themselves walking across New York avenues in a crouch and in his birthday suit, so that people would look at them with admiration in the belief that it is Squattedman in person who they are seeing. Until an emergency arises or an alarm voice is heard like “Help! Stop the thief!” and the false Squattedman stands erect and runs away in the opposite direction or even sides with the thief.
When the authentic Squattedman goes for a walk, he is dressed like a dandy. Almost always his transformation occurs within the privacy of his apartment: off come garments, his figure squats and, after a characteristic thud behind him, he shoots off out the window. (That very window that had to be expanded several times because too often he didn’t succeed in going through it and he ended up stamped against the wall or the window frame.)
Such is Squattedman’s popularity that newspapers have begun to call him “the New York Superhero.” However, there are still those who consider him rather a “Superantihero”. “A naked, squatted, elusive guy whose filiation is unknown, is not reliable, even if he is dedicated to fighting crime,” Ward McAllister recently sentenced. And McAllister’s judgements are final and cannot be appealed against.
But who the hell is this Ward McAllister whose opinions carry as much weight among the New York upper class as the opinions of a mustached histrionic leader among a bunch of morons?
Ward McAllister is the author of the Four Hundred’s List! That is, the list of the New Yorkers who really matter. The New Yorkers worthy of attending The Mrs. Astor’s Balls, of putting a doughnut on their head instead of a hat and of jumping rope without lifting their feet off the ground.
Going into more detail, Ward is a weirdo. What is more, he is an asshole. And above all, he is one of the greatest ass-kissers in modern history. (Without reaching the level of the bunch of morons that about twenty years later would be around a certain German histrionic leader with a mustache.)
This ability of him is the only thing that can explain the enormous influence he exerts on New York high society. Because, following his own strict criteria, he would be the first to exclude himself from his famous list if he could see himself with his own eyes. But he shuns mirrors and burnished surfaces. He doesn’t know his appearance other than what his flatterers tell him. Ward McAllister is afraid of not measuring up to his own standards and that’s why he hates mirrors. (Also because as a young man he held bitter discussions with a stubborn young man who lived in his house’s lobby, until he discovered that it was his own reflection in a full-length mirror.)
Spiritually speaking, he has a depth of feeling and thought close to that of a brick wall (although he does not reach such a level). Physically, he has a great resemblance to a cockroach: identical oval and crushed body, the same two long thin antennae protruding from his head … Almost the only difference is that he walks on two legs.
The resemblance is such that Horatio Alger Jr (who dislikes cockroaches so much that he is always armed with a roach spray) almost killed Ward by spraying him with pyrethrum when he was introduced to him at a party.
Because that’s another difference between Ward and a cockroach: while the cockroach has a penchant for damp and dark basements, Ward loves the luxurious and profusely lit ballrooms.
In his French aristocrat character of François de La Rochefoucauld, Squattedman has had occasion to treat this Ward McAllister. It was in one of these random meetings in a ballroom when McAllister, trying to justify his urinary incontinence at the expense of a ficus, confessed to him that he was being blackmailed by some Eskimos.
This confession, however, was interrupted by the sudden showing up of the hostess bitterly complaining that lately her ballroom’s ficus were dying for unknown reasons.

Now, however, McAllister is in an even more serious hurry: during The Four Hundred’s balls, he cannot fulfil the ceremony of roll call because his list has been stolen. As a result, high society ballrooms are filled with homeless and hookers while la crème de la crème of New York society stay on the threshold.
The Mrs. Astor herself is unable to enter her own ballroom due to lack of space. This puts McAllister in such an awkward situation that he is reluctantly forced to request the help of Squattedman through his French contact François de La Rochefoucauld.
Of course, Squattedman has more urgent matters to attend to, and only accepts the task of recovering the Four Hundred’s List in exchange for a generous donation to the Children’s Aid Society, a private institution dedicated to providing housing for orphans in New York. For a man so obsessed with genealogical trees and people’s filiation like Ward McAllister (for whom orphans belong to a caste similar to that of the untouchables of India), this is a hard decision to make, but he has no choice but to agree.
But what is known about the disappearance of the list? McAllister only remembers having momentarily taken it out of his safe to strike out a certain gentleman who had dared to oppose him about the influence of top hats on the tides. Who else knew the combination of the safe apart from McAllister and the Four Hundred? No one he knew. Although he remembers that on one occasion, while returning the list to its safe after roll call, he noticed that someone was looking over his shoulder. But when he turned around, he saw no one suspicious, only his butler newly hired because of the sudden death of his lifelong butler who had suffered a tragic accident by manipulating a rope with which he was hanged.
Squattedman’s instinct tell him that the new butler is involved in one way or another in the matter. But McAllister considers this assumption “crazy”. In spite of everything, on the butler’s day off, Squattedman secretly follows him from the air to an isolated cabin near the High Bridge at Harlem. There the butler meets with a couple of Squattedman’s old acquaintances: Gerhard and Sakarty, who have recently left prison after having served their sentence for the theft of the Pittingball diamond.
With all this, the suspicions that Squattedman harbors are increased and soon are confirmed when Sakarty shows up in McAllister’s house to blackmail him: the list in exchange for the Pittingball diamond. “Couldn’t it be any other diamond?” asks McAllister, who is not in possession of that particular diamond.
At this point there is a bitter dispute between the two blackmailers: Gerhard is willing to bend on this, but Sakarty is determined to get the Pittingball diamond for a sentimental issue (he is in love with it) and, being P.P. Pittingball one of The Four Hundred, he knows of the influence McAllister has on the diamond’s owner and, therefore, of his possible access to it.
Advised by Squattedman, McAllister agrees to the exchange. But getting the Pittingball diamond will take time, he warns the blackmailers, who get into another bitter dispute about that, although in the end the sentimental motivation of Sakarty prevails and they agree to wait as long as necessary.
However, McAllister is in a hurry to retrieve his list since next Thursday another ball is going to take place at The Mrs. Astor’s mansion, and the homeless and hookers have already started queuing at the mansion’s gates.
If Squattedman only knew where those ruffians have the list hidden! But even though he doesn’t let them out of his sight, he cannot find out. He even take them on an aerial tour threatening to drop them if they do not reveal the hiding place. But they know that, in case Squattedman made good on his threat, the list would be lost forever and The Four Hundred would be replaced by pariahs. Besides, Squattedman doesn’t want to jeopardize the substantial donation to the Children’s Aid Society promised by McAllister. So he soon realizes that he is backed up against the wall. The only solution is to give in to blackmail, which means stealing the Pittingball diamond. But what if he was discovered trying to steal the diamond? That would not be beneficial for his reputation. It could even be harmful. Ah, but what if the thief was not Squattedman, the New York Superhero, but a French emigrant named François de La Rochefoucauld?  

TO BE CONTINUED

This is a non-profit blog whose purpose is to raise funds for children in need. So if you want to make a donation in exchange for this story, click on this link to UNICEF. I really appreciate it!

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