The Price of a Dime – Norbert Davis (1934)

On a personal note, I originally bought the dead-tree edition from Amazon.  This 2.8 pound doorstop proved nearly impossible to read, so I had to buy it again for the Kindle just to get through it.  For this amount of money, I might as well have gone to a bookstore. [0]  Learn from my mistake — do not buy the paperback.

Private detective Shaley is idling idly at his desk when he hears screaming from the lobby.  His secretary Sadie is trying to push a “fattish” [1] woman out the door because Shaley said he didn’t want to see anyone this morning.

She was sent here by her brother Bennie Peterson, a bellman [2] at the Grover Hotel.  She says, “He just lost a dime, Mr. Shaley.  And now Mr. Van Bilbo is going to have him arrested.” Seems Bennie had delivered a drink to a room and got a shiny new dime [3] as a tip.  As he was flipping it in the air like George Raft [4], he dropped it in front of a door.  Van Bilbo caught him and accused him of looking through the key hole [5].  Bennie instructed Sadie to have Shaley tell Van Bilbo there was no funny business.  She tells him where Bennie is hiding out under the cryptic Ben Kenobiesque alias of Bennie Smith.

After she leaves, he tells Sadie he is going to get Bennie for involving him in a blackmail caper.  About a week ago, a woman was killed at the Grover.  Sadie says the woman’s name was “Big Cee” just like my ex-girlfriend.  She had been mixed up with some gangsters.  She had come out here to hide, but it didn’t work.  The newspaper [6] said Van Bilbo, a movie director, had heard the story and paid for her funeral.

Shaley drives his “battered Chrysler [7] roadster” to the studio to see Van Bilbo.  “There was a group of Indians [8] standing in a silent motionless circle in front of the big iron gate.”  Through the gate, he sees his friend Mandy working and says “I need you today, oh Mandy.” [9]  He let’s Shaley in and after the chauffeur with the “swarthily dark face” [11] beats it, they are alone.

Shaley asks, “Why all the war-whoops [8] outside?”  Mandy explains they are extras.  He tried to tell them there was no work today and to go to Wigwam Depot, “but they just grunt at you.”  He then suddenly asks Mandy who “Big Cee” was.  Mandy says, “Her name was Rosa Lee once.  She worked with the old man on some serials back in ’09 or TO”. [12]  That seems to satisfy Shaley who turns to leave.  Mandy is less satisfied and tells him not to target Van Bilbo or “I’ll kill you deader than hell!”

Shaley finds a phone-booth [13] and checks in with Sadie.  She says the noneck no-name woman from that morning called to thank Shaley for getting Bennie that job in Phoenix. She told a caller where he could find Bennie for the interview as bellhops are so uniquely skilled that they sometimes must be recruited out of state.

Shaley high-tails it to Bennie’s hide-out.  A “fat [1] man in a pink shirt” tells him which room.  He uses a skeleton key [14] to quietly enter his room.  Seeing Bennie has been stabbed several times, he backs out and heads over to see the nowaist no-name woman at her job at Zeke’s Tamales.

He sneaks in the back door.  The Chef, “a short, fat [1] man with a round face” knows him.  Laughably, Shaley says no-ankles no-name’s “brother has been murdered . . . and you’ll have to tell her.”  Shaley heads back to the studio to see Van Bilbo.

He confronts Van Bilbo with a story that he admittedly half makes up on the fly.  Big Cee ran a joint (i.e. brothel) in Cleveland.  Some local “politicos” closed her down because f*ing the citizens is their job.  She came to California with “some affidavits” and planned to shake them down.  “But they didn’t want to play that way.  They sent a guy after her, and he biffed her.”  And afterward, I guess, he killed her.  Big Cee had given the affidavits to Van Bilbo, and Bennie knew it.  There is some Hollywood gun play.  Yada, yada . . . the swarthy guy did it.

After the last story, this one was short, breezy fun.

Post-Post:

  • [0] Old brick buildings where they used to sell books and over-priced coffee.
  • [1] Gravitationally-challenged.
  • [2] Luggage-management person.
  • [3] Still only $1.83 in 2017, cheapskate!
  • [4] Gangster archetype from 1930s movies.
  • [5] Old-fashioned security device used to secure a door before hackers could open every door in the hotel at once.
  • [6] Archaic delivery system for 24-hour old news.
  • [7] I flagged this, but imagine my surprise to learn that they are still in business.
  • [8] Native Americans
  • [9] 1970’s song by Barry Manilow [10]
  • [10] 1970’s singer
  • [11] A person of indeterminate color, although I think we can rule one out.
  • [12] I don’t know what TO means and can’t even guess at a reasonable typo.
  • [13]  Literally a booth with a phone inside.  Crazy, man.
  • [14]  A key capable of opening many locks.
  • First published in the April 1934 edition of Black Mask.
  • Also that month:  Jane Goodall born.

Murder Picture – George Herman Coxe (1935)

1.

Flash Casey, ace photographer for the Globe, is ticked off at the cops.  He just returned from a raid on the horse-track with a great picture. However, like Lee Harvey Oswald, his second shot was even better.  It was so good the police seized the plate at the scene.

His day gets even worse as his editor Blaine refuses to print the picture he got away with. The new owner’s son Lee Fessenden is in the background sewing some wild oats at the horse-track, but that doesn’t seem to be the problem.  Police Chief Judson himself called the newspaper owner and demanded that the second plate be handed over or else the press would not be allowed in the police station for a month.

2.

When Casey gets back to his desk, his pal Tom Wade is on the phone with local tramp Alma Henderson.  Well, tramp according to Casey, trump according to Wade.  Alma works at Blue Grass Products which shares an air-duct with the horse-track.  Casey had used this conduit to sneak in to get his second stolen photo.  Well, his first photo stolen, but the second one taken.  Well, the first one taken from him, but . . . screw it, WTF shares an air-duct with a horse-track anyway?

Alma is of questionable morals because her boss Moe Nyberg, owner of Blue Grass, is a pretty shady customer.  He is described as “. . . a cheap tout, a first class thug. Everything he touches stinks” but that might just be the breeze from the stables.  Alma is no angel either as Wade reveals she escaped from prison.  Wade goes to meet Alma while Casey goes to meet detective Logan at Blue Grass.

Logan is at BGP with two other officers.  They want to know what Casey knows about the dead man on the floor of the closet — a private dick named Grady.  Casey immediately realizes that Alma must have known the man and fears for Wade’s safety.

3.

Casey describes how he and Wade went to Blue Grass Products.  He somehow knew there was an air shaft in the building and deduced it was in BGP.  He describes slipping through to get the picture.  We learn that the air shaft actually connected to the men’s room at the horse-track, which I’m not sure is better.  When he got back, Alma had closed BGP early fearing Nyberg would be upset at the intrusion, or maybe because it was Taco Tuesday at the track.

Logan explains that his crew is at BGP based on that advanced-criminological theory of killers returning to the scene of a crime.  There’s an extra fiver in it for him if it is a butler.  The dead man Grady had actually tipped the cops off that there would be a show-down here involving a horse dropping doping ring.  They think Alma was in on it and that is why she hustled Wade downstairs, then she took off with some “bad eggs”.

Casey surmises that his picture was seized because he accidentally got a shot of the real killer coming out of the men’s room with toilet paper on his shoe.  Casey jumps up to go save Wade from Nyberg’s goons.  Logan goes with him to Alma’s apartment and finds she has been killed.  Then a couple of bad hombres pull guns on them.

4.

Casey and Logan manage to jump the bad guys.  Casey even manages to take one’s gun and put a slug in his melon.  Casey, asks the one still breathing, “What did you do with Wade?”  Not getting a fast enough response, Casey belts him.  He asks again with no response, and belts him again.  Rinse, repeat.  Logan finally remembers he’s a cop and stops Casey . . . after his forth punch knocks the guy out.  Casey goes back to the Globe and has a duplicate made of his photo, then a couple of wallet-size.

5.

A cab-driver shows up at the Globe and tells Casey that Wade sent him and told him Flash Casey would pay the fare.  Fearing the next visitor will be from Domino’s with 30 pizzas, Casey races to the address where the driver dropped Wade off.  Before he can get out the door he gets a call.  The caller says to bring him the photo in exchange for Wade.

Blah, blah, blah.  There’s nothing wrong with this one that I can put my finger on.  It just seems to go on forever.  It took me three weeks to get through, and that ain’t a good sign for a 25 page story.

Post-Post:

  • First published in Black Mask, January 1935.
  • Also that month:  Amelia Earhart flies from Honolulu to California; gets cocky.

Wise Guy – Frederick Nebel (1930)

I.

The first paragraph of this story might be the most brutal thing in this collection so far.

Alderman Tony Maratelli walked up and down the living room of his house in Riddle Street.  Riddle was the name of the one-time tax commissioner. Maratelli was a fat man with dark eyes and two generous chins.  His fingers were fat, too, and the fingers of one hand were splayed around a glass of Chianti from which at frequent intervals he took quick sibilant draughts.  Now an Italian does not drink Chianti that way.  But Maratelli looked worried.  He was.

Up and down the living room, not just around it?  Is it shaped like a lap-pool?  He lives in the street?  I assure you, the tax commissioner has absolutely no role in this story, and there is no irony later in the story concerning his occupation or the name [1].  The paragraph veers towards coherence in describing his weight problem, but just as quickly goes back off the rails.  What’s with the conversational Now all of a sudden?  Beginning a sentence with But is OK to punctuate an idea, but the incredible shrinking sentences at the end would normally convey an anxiety that does not exist here.  Not sure about the use of draught, but I’m willing to call it colloquialism.

He has invited Police Captain MacBride over to talk about his son Dominick.  Maratelli’s son, I mean; but was anyone really thinking MacBride was the one with a son named Dominick?  Maratelli assures MacBride, “Look, Cap, I’m a good guy.  I’m a good wop. I’ve got a wife and kids and a business and I was elected Alderman.”  He is concerned that his son is hanging around with Sam Chibarro whom he also calls a wop.  But not a good one, I guess, as he is mixed up with the mob.  Maratelli wants MacBride to make sure his son his safe.

II.

Did this story opt for the Roman Numeral chapter headings because of the many Italian characters?  There were no Arabs in the other stories, so who knows?

MacBride heads down to the Club Naples where Chibarro hangs out with his entourage. He spots Chibarro and Dominick immediately.  The two tuxedoed gangsters are hanging out with another thug, Kid Barjo and some floozies, although hot women hanging out with bad boys who play by their own rules flashing cash is a little hard to buy.

MacBride has barely had a chance to enjoy the Canadian whiskey and cigars offered by the manager Al Vassilakos when the group disappears into a back room.  When MacBride goes to check them out, he finds Kid Barjo dead with a “two stab wounds in the front of the neck” or what we non-professionals call “the throat.”

III.

Dominick and Chibarro got away, but the cops haul in the manager and the dames.  The girls are Bunny Dahl who sounds like a doll, Flossie who sounds like a floozy, and Frieda Hoegh who sounds like a ho [2].  We are also introduced to MacBride’s sidekick from a number of short stories, a drunken reporter named Kennedy.  Well, I’m assuming he’s drunken because he’s a 1930’s reporter.  And a Kennedy.  But mostly the Kennedy thing.  Hanging out at the police station, they get news that Tony Maratelli’s house was blown up.

IV.

V.

MacBride and Maratelli look at the smoldering ruins.  It had been more than a home to Maratelli, it was a symbol of his success as a building contractor.  The good news is, like Trump, he will build new walls and other people will pay for them . . . by diverting materials bought for other people’s homes on cost-plus contracts, I mean.  Because he’s contractor.  Moving on . . .

Maratelli confesses that Dominick had been hiding at the house when it was fire-bombed.  He says Dominick did not kill Barjo, but he just couldn’t tell MacBride he was there because he was his son.  MacBride tells him, “I know you’re a good guy — the best wop I’ve ever known.  But you’ve got to come clean.”

VI.

Back at the police station, the detectives are looking for a pattern.  Like a straight or a flush, for example, as they seem to just be hanging around playing cards.  The detectives and Kennedy workshop a few theories about who actually committed the murder.  MacBride manages to call Maratelli a wop two more times, then he breaks out a bottle of Dewar’s.  I think I can profile him already.

VII.

MacBride beefs up the task force with Moriarty, Cohen, some plainclothesmen, some flashyclothesmen, and some uniformed cops.  MacBride returns to Club Naples to talk to Al Vassilakos.  He isn’t there, or maybe is just trying to hide as he is apparently going by the alias Al Vasilakos now [3]. Having been fooled by this impenetrable ruse, MacBride leaves.  He does see Dominick and Vasilakos in the alley though.  Maybe he should have changed his appearance by wearing different cuff-links.  Both are hauled downtown.

VIII.

At the station, MacBride chews Dominick out for causing Moriarty’s house to burn down, Moriarty losing his position as Alderman, not revealing who killed Barjo, and for hitting on 16 with the dealer showing a 5.  Dominick denies everything.  Just as MacBride is about to get out the rubber hose, they get a new lead.

IX.

Bunny Dahl is discovered passed out from a gas leak.  She regains consciousness just long enough to say Chibarro did this to her.  MacBride, Moriarty, Hogan and Kennedy pile into the police car, but wisely do not let Kennedy drive.

X. – XII.

Back at the station, Vassilakos is also refusing to talk.  Unlike Dominick, he is not saved by the bell.  Moriarty roughs him up until he spills the address where Chibarro is hiding. They go to the address.  There is chasing, fighting, gunplay and finally Chibarro is hauled in.  New evidence actually proves him to be innocent of killing Barjo.  Bunny Dahl snapped out of her coma to write a confession longer than my high school valedictorian speech — the one I had to sit through, I mean — then croaked.  She admits she killed Barjo, clearing Chibarro.  But then she busts Chibarro for attempting to murder her.  D’oh!  He was afraid she would spill the beans about some of his other shenanigans.

Despite the rocky start, this one turned out to be pretty good.

Post-Post:

  • [1] OK, I suppose the mystery genre suggests a riddle, but are you going to have a Riddle Street in every entry of the genre?
  • [2] or phlegm.
  • [3] Upon closer examination, just a typo.
  • First published in Black Mask in April 1930.  Also that month:  Yeoman Rand from Star Trek is born.

Red Wind – Raymond Chandler (1938)

One.

Phillip Marlowe is minding his own beeswax, having a beer in a bar conveniently located within staggering distance of his apartment. Business is as lite as the beer if lite beer had been invented, with only one other customer in the bar.  The drunken man has a pile of dimes in front of him and is pounding back shots of rye like there is no tomorrow, which there technically never is.

Another man walks into a bar.  He asks the bartender, “Seen a lady in here, buddy? Tall, pretty, brown hair, in a print bolero jacket over a blue silk crepe dress, wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat with a velvet band?”  The drunk whips out a .22, shoots the man twice, and says “So long, Waldo” before the man has a chance to further detail the woman’s make-up, kicks, and knack for accessorizing.  He turns the gun on Marlowe and the bartender, moves toward the door, plays Where’s Waldo’s Car and drives off in it.

Two.

Marlowe goes back to his apartment.  When the elevator doors open on the 4th floor, he sees a girl dressed just as Waldo had described.  He suggests she slip out of that hat and jacket and into his apartment to avoid the cops.  While he is mixing some drinks, she pulls out a gun.  Turns out Waldo is was a man named Joseph Coates who also lives lived in Marlowe’s building.  While they are talking, Marlowe is able to hear the elevator and then footsteps in the hall which makes me wonder why this building is so popular.

Three.

The man who killed Waldo / Coates points the same .22 in Marlowe’s face.  The dame comes up behind him and pokes a gun in his ribs.  Marlowe gives him a knee in the cajones.  She leaves and Marlowe calls the cops.  He talks Detective Copernik into taking credit for taking the man down.

Four.

The dame reconnects with Marlowe and spills names like a third hot toddy.  She is Lola, the wife of Frank Barsaly.  She helpfully gives Marlowe her address and does that weird old timey thing where she gives the last 5 digits of her phone number.  Frank was out of town a lot so she started keeping time with Stan Phillips.  For polishing his fob, he gave her a pearl necklace worth $15,000, although it felt like a million to him.  After Stan died in a plane crash, she hooked up with their chauffeur Waldo.  When Frank returned, he booted Waldo out, but Waldo stole the necklace and held it hostage for the low, low price of $5,000.

Lola asks Marlowe to search Waldo’s apartment, where she had been heading the night they met.  He doesn’t find the necklace, but does find a choker — a dead man hanged in the apartment.  He doesn’t mention this to Lola; he just sends her off.  He also doesn’t mention the keys he found in the corpse’s pocket which fit a Packard downstairs.

Five.

The keys have the name and address of a Eugenie Kolchenko on the case, so Marlowe drives the car to that address.  The Russki offers a ten-spot for his valet service before a man joins them in the living room.  He had hired the dead man to retrieve a briefcase Waldo had stolen.  That man is dun-dun-dun Frank Barsaly.  Marlowe will keep his part secret for a cool $500.

Six.

When Marlowe arrives back home, Detectives Copernik and Ybarra are waiting for him inside.  Since this was written before the Bill of Rights, the detectives searched his place and found the bolero jacket and hat.  Since it was written after Prohibition, they also helped themselves to Marlowe’s hooch.  Marlowe knows he’s busted for not telling the cops about the girl.  He spills his guts figuratively, but Copernik wants to spill them literally.  Ybarra turns out to be an honest or, at least, reasonable cop.  They agree not to haul Marlowe in if they get credit for cracking the case.  Ybarra even lets him keep the pearls they recovered from Waldo’s car — they were $100 fakes anyway.[1]

Seven.

Marlowe meets Lola. Sadly, she and Frank are separating.  If these two crazy kids who are accepting $100k gifts from other men, banging the chauffeur, sending a hit-man to make collections, and shacking up with a Commie can’t make it work what chance do any of us have?

There is a bit with a second string of pearls and a package that I guess I will never understand.  I suppose her jacket and hat are in the box, but why the drama?  He gives her a super-cheap knock-off of her pearls and chucks the original into the sea, pearl by pearl.

Despite being baffled by the ending, a great story.  There is no reason for my mediocre writing to attempt to describe Chandler’s excellent writing.  The prose is warm and thick, the characterizations are life-like, and the hats, my God, the hats!

Great stuff.

Post-Post:

  • [1] That’s still $1,700 in today’s dollars.
  • First Published in Dime Detective in January 1938.
  • Also that month: Birth of The X-Files’ Cigarette Smoking Man.
  • Used as the basis for two TV episodes starring Powers Booth and Danny Glover as Marlowe.  Both actors were attempting to fill one shoe each of Humphrey Bogart, and I suspect they both failed.
  • After skimming both episodes on YouTube, they both seem like pretty dreary affairs with many changes in just the bits I saw.  The Glover version seemed better and had at least 2 bonuses:  1) Copernik was played by world’s greatest actor Dan Hedaya, 2) there was an interesting theory about that 2nd set of pearls.  It didn’t fit with the short story, but maybe made sense for the episode.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents – A True Account (06/07/59)

A reel-to-reel tape tells us, “The following is a true and full account and hereby sworn by me, Paul Brett, Attorney at Law.”  Dang, you had me right up til that last part.  The tape continues on, leading into a flashback . . .

Mrs. Cannon-Hughes comes to Brett’s office and tells him she knows of a murder that was committed.  He agrees consulting a lawyer is a prudent move and bills her four hours.  She begins her story, leading us into the rarely seen flashback within a flashback.  Or is it three-deep, with the tape being the first flashback, Mrs. C-H being the second, and her recollection being the third?  This is why Inception didn’t win the Oscar vote . . . or did it?

Miss Cannon is a live-in nurse to the elderly Mrs. Hughes.  We join the story just as Mrs. Hughes croaks from natural causes (“natural causes” on Alfred Hitchcock Presents = MURDER!).  Mr. Hughes keeps her on the payroll until the funeral, then gives her a severance check.  It isn’t long, however, before Mr. Hughes gives her a call.

She puts on her white uniform, white shoes and white cap and goes to casa de Hughes. When she gets there, she finds this was just a ruse to get her to go to a concert with him.  She eagerly accepts.  Things progress quickly through the concert phase, dinner phase, driving to the airport phase, and now he is helping her paint her living room. After a few horizontal strokes of latex — has this guy ever picked up a paint brush before? — he asks her to go away with him.  Soon they are married.

Once back from the honeymoon, she feels Mr. Hughes has become “distant, hard to reach”, perhaps fearing another room needs painting. He refuses to let her see her old friends.

One night, she notices he is not in bed.  She gets up to look for him, but he sleepwalks into the bedroom.  He mutters, “Here, drink this and go back to sleep.  I know you took some earlier, but this is doctor’s orders.”  He goes through the motions as if giving medicine to his dead wife.  So we have a ultra-rare sighting of a flashback within a flashback within a flashback.  Or is it . . . nevermind, it’s getting late.

She tells Brett that she suspects murder because he never should have given his wife that medicine; that was her job.  Brett suggests that maybe their marriage is an insurance policy — Hughes married her just in case there were questions, and a wife can’t testify against her husband in TV court [1].  She says that if he knew she saw him sleepwalking he would kill her!

I’ll say this for AHP, they get right to it — the next shot is at her funeral with Brett in attendance.  Zing!  It is staged so that it is impossible to see until the end — this is Mr. Hughes funeral, not hers.  Kudos!

On the reel-to-reel, Brett tells us the coroner has ruled Mr. Hughes’ death a suicide. This leaves the new Mrs. Hughes very rich; she asks Brett to help settle the estate.  Before long he is touching her hand.  Soon he will be making some horizontal strokes of his own; coincidentally, also in latex. [2]

One night after they are married, his wife is having a nightmare.  She says, “Drink this, Mrs. Hughes. Have another dose.  Mrs. Hughes, I know you took some earlier, but you have to have another dose.  Drink it.”

Brett continues on the tape stating that he believes she committed two murders and would kill him if she suspected he was on to her.  That is very perceptive as we see him lying dead on the floor as the tape plays.  His wife washes the glass that contained the poison, and tosses the tape into the fireplace.

Hitchcock returns for his usual closing remarks.  Or was this whole episode a flashback by him?  And was that framed in a flashback to 1959 by Hulu?  And am I flashing back in recalling it now?  And will you flashback as you remember reading this in a few days?  Probably a “no” on that last one.

Good stuff.

Post-Post:

  • [1] This doesn’t make much sense.  How would spousal abuse ever get prosecuted? Or maybe it didn’t in the 1950’s.
  • [2] Just an assumption on my part on his part.
  • AHP Deathwatch:  No survivors.
  • Mrs. Cannon-Hughes-Brett gets no first name, but three last names [UPDATE below].
  • For a more in-depth look at the episode and its source material, check out bare*bonez e-zine.  Jack says Miss Cannon’s first name is Mabel in the original story and Maureen on AHP.  I was going by IMDb, which is on thin ice with me anyway after deleting the IMDb Message Boards — now how will I know the worst movie ever?
  • Miss Cannon has a roommate well-played by Marlon Brando’s sister.  If you grew up with Marlon Brando, could rooming with a serial killer be any crazier?
  • There is a strange opening vignette where a cute nurse is taking Hitchcock’s blood pressure.  He is lying on a table with a sheet over him.  As he ogles her pumping the device, a bulge emerges from his mid-section.  This really was a different time.