Wednesday, August 23, 2017

SINGAPORE SAMMY: 'You ain't hard. You ain't smart. You're just a sucker.'

George F. Worts pulls off a nice piece of misdirection in the fourth Singapore Sammy story, "The Pink Elephant." (Short Stories, October 25, 1930). At the same time, he raises the stakes in Sammy Shea's hunt for his reprobate father, since I believe it's established here for the first time that the will which left Sammy his grandfather's fortune, but was stolen by his dad, contains a clause bestowing the estate upon the father in the event of Sammy's death. So just as we get our first real look at Bill Shea, we learn that he has a motive to kill his son. Sammy has tracked him to Siam (the present-day Thailand), where our hero's sob story has earned him the sympathy of a local prince who's equipped him with a handsome entourage of elephants and hunters to find the elder Shea. Early on, Sammy finally tracks has the old man in his sights -- or at least he finds a man who matches the description he depends on, that of a bearded man in the robes of a Buddhist monk, since Sammy himself hasn't seen the guy since he was two years old. After a tense, almost glancing encounter, Sammy is distracted from the chase by his abrupt discovery of the title creature, whom he rescues from crocodiles in a mud pit. The baby pink elephant is a phoouk, a rare and virtually sacred creature in Siam, and on sight of him Sammy is distracted from his potentially parricidal quest by that streak of greed that Worts has already well established. This changes the whole direction of the story, as Sammy realizes that he can earn a literally princely sum by delivering the phoouk to the king. The discovery also changes his relationship to the local prince and his minions, who feel that the pink elephant, being found in their master's territory, is his to deliver to the king, for whatever reward. Sammy understands that his trip to the capital will be dangerous, and that his erstwhile host will likely prove his enemy.

Into this tense situation wanders Sir Lester, a stereotypical Englishman touring the country "lookin' for big cats." His warning that Sammy runs "rather a risk" taking the phoouk all the way to Bangkok makes our hero suspicious. "Sammy looked quickly in Sir Lester's eyes," Worts writes, "saw something there that he did not like." But what else is new? Why wouldn't Sir Lester be just as eager to nab the elephant as anyone else? So Sammy has someone new to worry about -- except that the Englishman is not so new.  After inviting Sammy to sit in a blatant trap and then springing it, Sir Lester reveals himself as Bill Shea. For this one time we can buy that Sammy could be so easily fooled because he hasn't had a good look at his father for so long. Once Sammy identifies him, Bill greets him with, "Smart boy! All you needed to find it out was a moving picture and a full set of directions!" Luckily for our hero, the old man is content to taunt him and steal his elephant.

They told me that you were one dangerous guy to cross. Hell, you ain't hard. You ain't smart. You're just a sucker. I was almost gettin' proud of you -- and then you have to up and pull this stunt. You sucker!...What did I tell you in that letter I sent you when you were in the Singapore Hospital? 'The hand is faster than the naked eye. A wise man knows the aim of a bottle!' I warned you. You're just dumb.

Worts uses the occasion to recap the Sammy series to date from Bill's second-hand point of view before the old man absconds with the phoouk. He's arranged to have Sammy freed some time later, well after Bill and the pink elephant are out of reach -- or so Bill assumes. He hasn't reckoned with the bond Sammy has formed with Bozo, the prince's mighty alcoholic elephant. In the story's silly finish, Sammy steals Bozo from the prince's estate, fuels him up with whisky, overtakes Bill's party and manages to sneak off with the pink elephant. Score one for Sammy Shea! Silly as it is, "Pink Elephant" is a strong entry in the series thanks to its spectacular introduction, four episodes in, of the main villain, who promises to give Sammy still more trouble in the future.

No comments:

Post a Comment