Return to Ramble House Page
Return to Harry Stephen Keeler Page
THE GALLOWS WAITS, MY LORD!
SAN DO MAR: Fugitive’s Paradise
By Fender Tucker
San Do Mar! San Do Mar! The trisyllable tumbles off the tongue as a tantalizing morsel of Central American salsa, evoking pictures of palm-hidden beaches with half-suns on the horizon. But it is much more than that, as we who navigate the Keeler Kanon know too well; it is also the only place in the world where—well, let’s let Harry Stephen Keeler describe the country in the waning moments of his 1934 novel, 10 Hours, where San Do Mar is first sprung on readerkind.
“Well,” I asked gravely, “what I specifically want to know, Mr. Thane, is whether there’s any place on earth where there is no extradition to the U.S.A.—that is, where, because there is no extradition, no arrest can be made for any crime committed in the United States?”
He regarded me gravely. Shaking his head. “Boy, boy! So you’ve gotten in the meshes early? Hm! Real estate? Rents? Hm.”
He was silent. But sternly so now. “Well, I’ve accepted your fee. And I’m a criminal lawyer. Business is business. And a bargain’s a bargain. So I’ll give you your answer. Yes, there is one spot today—and one only—that fulfills the requirements you just described. That spot is the Republic of San Do Mar, Central America.”
“In—in Central America?” I said, hopefully.
“Yes,” he retorted unsmilingly. “The little triangle of land that used to be the western tip of Honduras. But which is now the Republic of San Do Mar. And recognized as such by the League of Nations.”
But what are the living conditions like in San Do Mar? At least in 1934? Harry drives on.
“Is it—is it—a terrible place—to live?”
He sighed, as a man deeply moved. “Not so terrible,” he said, “if you’ve got a lot of stolen money to live there. Though from what I judge of you, my boy, what you’ve embezzled—is gone. However—you want to know—your five dollars’ worth. Yes.” He paused. “San Do Mar is a paradise. And nothing else. For Presidente de la Cueva, who fomented the successful rebellion which tore it loose from Honduras, put his entire personal fortune of 20,000,000 pesos—that’s $10,000,000, my boy—into making it an Elysium. So—with respect to your last question—it isn’t some God-forsaken place of lizards and sand, and natives watching for banana steamers. The new city of de la Cueva alone, I understand, can well be called Little New York. With its macadam boulevards—its de luxe hotels—that is, such few as are required!—its clubs—particularly the so-called Embezzler’s Club, with a lounge and a grill and dress-suited waiters the equal to anything on our South Michigan Boulevard—its refrigerated homes and apartment buildings—its cabarets—night clubs—yes, I know these mean nothing to you—and with women, beautiful ones, too, from all over the world, congregating there. They’ve an endowed theatre that plays the biggest Broadway successes—and even our own Civic Opera Company goes down there in the wintertime. No, boy, if a man had an income—he could be several thousand times worse off than by living perpetually in that place. And—but I say, now—are you maybe asking this—on behalf of your Dad?”
“No,” I said miserably. “On behalf—of myself.”
And just what was it again that makes San Do Mar so special?
“I see,” he nodded. And sighed. “I see,” he repeated. “Well, I think I’ve answered your $5 question. No one can be extradited from San Do Mar on any crime in the calendar. Whether it’s merely a matter of just a theft of $100 out of a National Tea Company store till, or murder, or—listen— you haven’t killed anybody?”
“No,” I told him.
“That’s good, then. Well, whatever it is, if a man makes San Do Mar, he’s safe for the rest of his life.
Well, it sounds like a grand place, but how does one get there?
“How—how far is it?” I asked hurriedly.
“How far? Well—let’s see. It’s about 2700 miles from Chicago. And about 1700 miles—more or less, that is— from any point on the Gulf or Rio Grande.”
“How—how does one best reach it?”
He looked at me sadly.
“Well,” was his reply, “you can go south to New Orleans—thence to San Diego, California, where there’s a Mexican West coast airline, with creaky, moth-eaten planes, stopping every hundred miles or so all the long winding way down the Mexican west coast. Or one—but now let’s get this clear: You want to go there? To San Do Mar?”
“To avoid arrest?”
He made a number of doleful and regretful sounds with his tongue against the roof of his mouth. “All right,” he said at length. “What I just outlined is one of four things you can do. Yes. That Mexican West-coast plane from California. Changing to the Salvadorean plane where the Guatemala-Mexico boundary runs into the Gulf of Tehuantepec. And—at Salvador—in to San Do Mar by train. A several-day trip, all that, from California; or all of that, at least, from New Orleans. Again, however, you can take a fruit liner out of New Orleans to Honduras proper—except it has to go by way of Havana, Cuba. A pretty roundabout way, you see. But, once in Honduras, you can again get into San Do Mar by train. And without any passports, incidentally, thanks to the present travelling arrangements between Uncle Sam and all of Central America. The next possible route, however, requires a Mexican passport—and a New Orleans-Gulf of Campeche freighter across the narrowest part of the Gulf of Mexico to Campeche—yes, in the southern tip of Mexico—and then a long crawl by rail and stage coach across that neck of Mexico into Guatemala—across Guatemala, the one way—and thence into San Do Mar.”
But surely there are more ways to get there than by boat and railroad?
“How—how about flying?” I asked him.
“About flying—straight to San Do Mar?” he repeated. “Well,” he pronounced grimly, “I wouldn’t advise you to try to hire a plane to fly direct there, from any airport in America. For you’d be picked up and questioned thoroughly before your plane ever took off. Positively! But if you mean—flying yourself—you look a bit young to handle a stick—however, you youngsters tackle most everything these days. Well, as to flying there direct, even if you could navigate yourself perfectly down onto that exact triangle of land, it would all depend on how quickly your employers there in the Straus Building find you’ve lifted their funds. And whether you leave any clue as to your destination. If they find out both facts—before you get to San Do Mar—then they can telegraph or radio the air police of any or all of those surrounding countries—and you’ll be forced down, else shot down. On their territory, let me say, which has extradition treaties with the United States here. Good Lord, boy, can’t you imagine what those little jealous countries will do, to avoid allowing a single dollar—or a new citizen, with brisk Northern ideas—to go into this new upstart of a San Do Mar? Why—they’d put their whole air force out—to spite San Do Mar. They—however, I’ve answered all your questions, I believe.”
“Yes,” I asserted miserably.
But alas, the omniscient narrator never takes us to this wondrous country. We can only rely on those who tell us about it. Later in 1934, however, Riddle of the Travelling Skull affords us more information—or rather, a retelling of the same information by different people engaged in a completely different contretemps. This time we learn that the one thing that makes San Do Mar unique may be only temporary.
Roger Pelton stared at me.
“You—you mean,” he said slowly, “that I should go—to San Do Mar? That little republic? That used to be—”
“Yes,” I repeated sternly. “That little triangle of land that used to be the western tip of Honduras. And which is now the Republic of San Do Mar. And recognized as such by the League of Nations.”
“But—but why?” he asked helplessly. “Why—”
“Why me no whys, as Shakespeare said,” I put in irritably. For, in truth, my composure was undermined by the ugliness of the whole situation, entangling as it did Doris—as well as myself. Though I could not help but marvel, as I spoke to Roger Pelton, how these last few minutes had changed the whole tenor of the master-and-man relationship which had formerly existed between us.
“No,” I went on, “it’s you—for San Do Mar, Mr. Pelton, Because it’s the one place we can park you that’ll give us a chance to drive a real bargain with this Payne. Or his mob—in case he gets efficient, and gathers together a blackmailing outfit. For no one, as you know, can be extradited from San Do Mar on any crime in the calendar. Whether it’s a matter of just a theft of $100 out of a National Tea Company store till—or murder—yes, I know that word hurts—you’re safe in San Do Mar for the rest of your natural life. Sure,” I went on, “there’ll be extradition laws passed eventually. Some day. But they won’t be retroactive. No law ever can be retroactive. And such laws won’t apply to anybody who has safely made San Do Mar—and gotten ensconced there. So the man who settles in San Do Mar has played the first trump card in any blackmail game against him.”
Even the political ambitions of San Do Mar’s surrounding countries are reiterated for those of us with forgetful minds.
“But—but why couldn’t I, Clay, just take the bull by the horns? And have you tell this man Payne that I’ve started, by air or steamer, for San Do Mar. And that he can—”
“Yes, I know,” I said, “—— or get off the pot!” I shook my head. “Christamighty no, Mr. Pelton. The jig is all up if you ever did that. The little countries all surrounding San Do Mar are jealous as hell of the new republic. And if Payne gets cuckoo with rage and springs the works—and the State’s Attorney wires down to Central America to stop Mr. Roger Pelton, Esquire—well—do you know what will happen?”
“San Do Mar is entirely surrounded by territory of other Central American nations. Guatemala on the west and north. San Salvador on the south. Honduras proper on the east; and British Honduras on the north. Trains, buses or stagecoaches going into San Do Mar from all sides would be searched. You’d be picked off. Boat lines—on both oceans—would be watched, and you wouldn’t even get your feet on Honduras, Guatemala, San Salvador or Nicaragua, let alone travelling over them. Gad, Mr. Pelton, those little jealous countries would give their eye teeth to prevent San Do Mar, their new little-sister banana republic, from receiving another prosperous guest. Able to spend money—for you’d have the candy factory income—and make her more prosperous than ever. I read all about the condition in the Literary Regurgitation.
“No,” I went on, “the only absconders, murderers, forgers, thieves, income-tax violators—criminals of all kinds who enjoy asylum in San Do Mar—if you can use the word ‘enjoy’!—made the place before the facts were out that they were wanted. They were lost indeed had they not. So I’m telling you we’ve got to sneak you down there—while this Cockney bastard still believes you to be in Chicago—trying to raise the first 20,000 bucks.”
For several years, we are left with only a dreamer’s description of the beautiful land, and in The Wonderful Scheme of Mr. Christopher Thorne, we find that it is merely a place where a villain might go, with only a subtle hint of its marvelous extradition policy.
Although if Marceau did inform on my foster-father, he did him—at least in that respect—the biggest favor he could have done him, and we have reason almost to be grateful to Marceau for it. For had Daddy Quong not been captured—you see, I don’t know just how much he gave you of this in Toronto—he would have gotten himself smuggled to the South Seas or down to Central America—to some Godforsaken banana republic called San Do Mar—and there he would have remained for life, embittered, unhappy, and in complete ignorance of certain developments which a few months later were to make him a free man and completely vindicate him from the charges against him.”
For eleven long, lonely years San Do Mar remains unvisited by residents of Keelerland, until 1948’s The Case of the Transposed Legs introduces us to Rudolph Uberhulf, Esq.—known to his stir buddies as “Big Rudy”—and his plan to escape from Moundsville Penitentiary and end up in our beloved, triangular country.
Never again would he be able to carry on around good old C.C.—not even, so far as that went, in the whole country. For once he “took it on the lam” from here, his mug would be hot for years to come; and once that there identification was held up in C.C., and himself indicted, and a gilt-edge bump-off rap was plastered against him, there’d be reward dough placed against him by some civic-minded so-and-so. But since any “out” from Moundsville Penitentiary for Big Rudy held within itself, fortunately—and all thanks to certain situations ironed out long in advance—held all the sweetey-sweet steps ranging from being kept safely under cover, to being set down nicey-nice in a certain little Central American Republic called San Do Mar, from where no man could be extradited—or, should he prefer it, in Argentiny, where there was plenty of his own blood to protect and cover him—what the hell, anyway? Ain’t one place good enough to live in as another—so long as you ain’t no noose around your throat—nor no electric chair against your backside? Ain’t one pl—
And in case you missed it the first time…
Yes, it was a gilt-edged hide-out, b’gosh. Alky’s “farm,” in the face of this murder rap that was maturing in C.C. over every hour that San Francisco Swodock flew towards C.C. For from the “farm” in “Alky’s” drug-smuggling-plane operated from a clearing in the woods a full mile away, Rudy could be swung neatly—and at the exact correct moment— to the point on the bleak Louisiana coast where “Salt” Blyerty was accustomed to put in with his sloop carrying that South American smuggled stuff. Then out with Salt— and to the Central American republic of San Do Mar, still minus extradition treaties even today. And that meant permanent safety for one Rudolph Uberhulf, Esquire.
But at last, in 1953, we finally get to set foot on the mysterious soil which somehow resists extradition, even after all these years. In Keeler’s San Do Marian masterpiece, The Gallows Waits, My Lord! we meet its people, listen to its dialect, visit its cities, learn its history, and even bump into one or two of its presidentes. In fact, just about the whole story takes place in the Cabildo, a prison in the center of San Do Mar.
But that’s not all. We discover, to our delight, that San Do Marian postage stamps are so large they can be used to hold calendars on brick walls. We learn that a man might live in a “nice cool constructed bungalow on Consudeo Street. Yes, just rented only by me. One story, cellar, and insulated attic.” We write down in our little black books that “the best fingerprint expert here in San Do Mar—an unimpeachable scientist named Professor Alberto Silva—” is the man to see about f.p.’s.
And most intriguing of all, we hear about certain San Do Marian “accentings” and are treated to a paragraph’s worth, just to show us that it’s as much an ocular carnivale as an aural extravaganza. I dare you to read the following paragraph without allowing your labials to quiver their way wantonly around the exquisitely em-dashed glottals and portamentoes. Reading it in silence is like browsing Henry Miller with both hands firmly attached to the book.
“Well,” he said, undecidedly, but in almost perfect English except for certain characteristic San Do Marian accentings here and there, “you are 100-pare-cant corract, all right. The man’s full confassion randered there in the Bur—eau De—tact—ive in Hollywood, as just read me complete by the so-courteous Amer—ee—can detactive head—over the Honduras relay ax-tansion line—and the facts of his feengerpreents being conclusively identified by that so-remarkable and—and eencorruptable Amereecan creeminal bureau, the F.B.I.!—all confirmed for me, moreover, previously, on same wire connaction, by my good fr’and and boyhood chum, Señor Alberto Hurango of the Honduran Consulate who has wired phot-o-stat of official identee—fication report, reveals the arrestee all right, all right, as being the man whom the Amer-eecan Meree-john was convicted of murdering.” He shook his head almost unbelievingly. “Por Dios! How—amazing? And so the Ameree-can was right—after all—in his weird, fantastic contantion?” Now he shook his head deprecatingly. “And as for that man ’oo’s death he caused by shifting dreenks—that man now revealed as one, Chris Edlund, wastrel creem’nal cousin of Nordstrom, with seemilar 6-toed right foot, who w’ile liveeng weeth Nordstrom a brief while just before Nordstrom absconded, deed filch passport—that man,” the legist drove on sternly, “ ’oo’s death Meree-john deed cause by sheefting dreenks— accapting now fully Meree-john’s explanation, seence his onlee posseeble motive is completely, ab-so-lutely gone!—we-ell, that other man—” Now the face of the Chief of the Council Supreme of San Do Mar grew absolutely black—the black of one whose national and personal dignity both had been outraged. “—that other was a—a—a scoun-drell—a veecious, creem’nally-minded scound-drell—to be entereeng our contree—to be traveling about in it—on a pass-port—false! W’y—w’y, what he got—was not enough. He—he should ’ave been—”
This amazing paragraph reveals some of the surprises that are sprung at the end of The Gallows Waits, My Lord, but the editors trust that there’s no way in hell that anyone, without understanding what leads up to it, can read any sense into it. So just enjoy it for its own sake, and save the analysis of its sentences for when you reach page 200.
Harry Stephen Keeler saved his last reference to the haven of San Do Mar for his last finished novel, The Scarlet Mummy. In it, his obvious affection for the land where extradition is non est is evident in this final reference, which shows that not only has San Do Mar not repealed its famous law, but that even as late as 1965, Harry still cajoled his hard-boiled yeggs to sprinkle their conversations with “ ’twoulds” and “’twases”, even managing to get both words in this one memorable sen-tence.
“Well, for a job pulled there in N.O. I might likely blow across to Guadalupe—where a guy don’t have to have a passport—or, say, down to San do Mar in Central America, where you don’t need a passport even just now, and from where there’s no extradition—oh, ’twouldn’t matter so long as ’twas some place where there were dames.”
Yes, Harry, ’twouldn’t matter, as long as ’twas some place where t'were dames—like those in San Do Mar, fugitives’ paradise of Central America.
Return to Ramble House Page
Return to Harry Stephen Keeler Page