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.

The City of Hell! – Leslie T. White (1933)

The piercing screams of a woman filled the awed hollow of silence left void by the chatter of a sub-machine-gun and acted as a magnet of sound to suck the big squad car to the scene.

That opening sentence had me diving for cover —  I mean the cover of the Cliffs Notes version.
Fortunately, things took a turn for the much better, although not immediately:

Even before the police driver braked the hurtling machine to a full stop, Duane and Barnaby debouched from the tonneau.

Did what from the what now?  From this point, things get more serious as a child has been killed with three slugs in the back from a drive-by shooting.  Just to keep the reader on his toes, Barnaby and Duane are the last names of the detectives.

The boy’s mother is not comforted by the presence of the police.  She shrieks, “You’re just like the gangsters wat [sic] kill my baby!  You know who did it, but you won’t do nothin’!”  Sadly, Barnaby and Duane know she is right to feel that way.  It was probably Krako’s boys hitting one of Okmyx’s men, but nobody saw nothing and they are all politically protected.  Even if they were hauled in, they would never be convicted.

It’s worth a shot, though.  They see Boss Ritter in his car and pull him over.  He is packing a .38, but has a permit all nice and legal.  They search his car without a warrant which is not so legal.  Ritter is utterly shocked when Barnaby punches him out and arrests him.  By the time they get to the police station, his lawyer is waiting to spring him.

This gets Police Chief Grogan’s goat and he chews Barnaby out for slugging Ritter, illegally searching the car, and hauling him in with no evidence.  He is busted down to a uniformed beat cop.  He tells off the corrupt Grogan and quits.

Later at Duane’s house, Barnaby and Duane are joined by two fellow cops.  The four men decide to establish an alternate legal system.  Not as vigilantes, but as private citizens operating by the rule of justice rather than the rule of law.  So, yeah, vigilantes.

Their first target is “Big Dutch” Ritter whom they haul out of La Parisienne Cafe before his companions see how he got his nickname.  Ritter knows that a squad car ride downtown ends at the police station, which is no problem.  He is a little concerned, though, that this time he has been thrown in the back of a private sedan, and the driver has an Uber rating with fewer stars than Batman v Superman.  Barnaby tells Ritter they are working for a different police force now — from the City of Hell!

Ritter is hauled subterranean to their HQ in an abandoned sewer line.  They say it is appropriate because it was built due to graft and is unusable.  Crooked lawyers in the above-ground court-rooms can’t save him now.  They have set up a whole judicial system down there including a judge, lawyer, clerk, grand jury etc that they have abducted into service as apparently kidnapping is not considered a crime in the City of Hell.

After a brief reign of terror justice, our boys clean up the streets, the police department, and hopefully that septic tank they are operating out of.  Of course there will be no repercussions for their unconstitutional shenanigans — having driven the old gang of corrupt bureaucrats out of their jobs, the City of Hell gang will assume those positions and keep their brothers out of jail.  The cycle continues.

Maybe my favorite story of the collection so far.  Who doesn’t love vigilantes?  Until they usually end up killing the wrong person, I mean.

Post-Post:

  • First published in Black Mask in November 1933.
  • Also that month:  Duck Soup released.

Stag Party – Charles G. Booth (1933)

Stag Party — Ha-cha-cha!  We’re off to a good start in the first two words!  The bad news is this is a novella — long enough to have chapters. The bright side is maybe I can milk this for a couple of posts.

1.

McFee of the Blue Shield Detective Agency is checking out a dame with “a subtle red mouth and experienced eyes with green lights in them.”  Irene Mayo needs his help.  Her beau Rance Damon went to the Gaiety Club to see local gangster Sam Melrose.  McFee knows that Melrose is hiding out on Larry Knudson’s yacht trying to avoid being served a subpoena, or sardines.  Even with the gangster at sea, Damon never came out of the club.  McFee checks it out.

2.

The downtown had gone downhill over the years.  Businesses had changed hands or closed, and “The Gaiety had gone burleycue” which I assume is a burlesque house with pulled pork, but then aren’t they all.  The Gaiety was closed in the afternoon, but McFee goes in anyway.  In the dark theater, Damon falls dead into his arms with a gunshot in his chest.  McFee assumes it is because Damon asked for change in the VIP Room.

3.

McFee follows the blood trail to an undressing room where he finds Mabel Leclaire. Mabel’s negligee is sticky . . . and also covered in blood.  He is able to tell she used the phone, probably for a call.  “Who’d you call?”  he asks.  “Go roll a hoop,” she replies to my inexplicable amusement.

4.

Local legitimate business man Joe Metz shows up.  He wants to get Damon’s body out of the club so owner Melrose isn’t implicated.  He accuses McFee of copping a grand jury file from Damon.  McFee asks where Melrose is, and Metz tells him he is aboard Larry Knudson’s yacht.  McFee makes his move — he smashes a lamp and flees in the dark.

5.

He is still able to find the fuse box and steal a couple of fuses to keep everyone in the dark.  Metz’s goons Tony StarkeMonty Welch, and Art Kline run around in the dark, colliding with furniture and bloodying their knees, which had always been more of a woman’s injury in this establishment.  They hear the cops roll up and take off.  McFee crawls to Damon’s body, but it is gone.

6.

Detective Hurley and his dicks find McFee, and are also interested in the whereabouts of the Shelldon File.  They confirm for the 3rd time that Melrose is on Larry Knudson’s yacht.  Chubby-chaser Hurley takes a moment to wistfully remember the old days.  “You need a pair of field glasses to see the jittering toothpicks that dance on the boards nowdays.”  Chief Detective Littner shows up to let us know for the 4th time that Melrose is on Larry Knudson’s yacht.

7.

At 3:15, McFee walks out “rolling a match in his ear.”  This is the 2nd time he has done that and I still can’t figure it what it means.  He finds Irene and they drive back to her place.  When McFee sees that they are being followed, he swings by a service station and buys a 5 gallon can of crank case oil.  He pours it out on the road causing a horrific crash for his pursuer and the school bus that should be a long shortly.

8.

Apparently this was too much excitement for Irene and she passed out.  McFee carries her up to her apartment.  He also finds the Shelldon File hidden in her coat.  She pulls a .38 on McFee to get it back, but it turns out to be full of blank pages.  McFee goes back home and finds Metz sitting in front of his apartment also holding a .38 on him.  His goons really rough McFee up.  Metz threatens him, “They got no use for dicks in heaven” which doesn’t exactly square with the way I picture it.  He is worked over pretty well before they are interrupted by Hurley and a reporter named Cruikshank.  Hmmm, of the Paris Cruikshanks?

9.

McFee drops by his office and finds a letter telling him Melrose has the Shelldon File.  I have a hunch it is on Larry Knudson’s yacht.  He meets Irene for lunch and she has received a similar letter.  McFee rolls another match in his ear.  He finds Damon’s body in the home of a clerk who had a shop near The Gaiety.  She was conked on the head and her gas jets had been opened.  Lucky that match in his ear wasn’t lit.

10.

Melrose finally returns from the Scudder yacht.  Wait, what?  We’ve been told four times it was Larry Knudson’s yacht — WTF is Scudder? [1]  McFee gets a phone call.  Muffled in the background he can hear someone yelling, “We are in a house on Butte Street!  I saw the name — Butte Street!  Butte Street!”  He is able to deduce that it is either Irene or The Jerky Boys . . . OK, that reference really only works in print.

11.

McFee goes to the house on Butte Street and, appropriately, breaks into the rear of the house.  He gets the drop on the gang roughing up Irene.  She comes up with a plan for her to replace Leclaire dancing at The Shawl Club that night.  She should be able to score the Shelldon File as well as a wad of singles.  McFee ties the men to chairs.  Leclaire protests, but McFee tells her, “I’ll forget you’re a lady if you don’t sit in that chair.”  She replies, “Forget it anyway.”  It doesn’t really fit the situation, but it is such a great exchange that I love it anyway.

12.

At The Shawl Club, we finally meet Melrose.  He is “an olive-skinned man with an uneven mouth and grizzled hair parted in the middle.  His face was old, his forehead corded by deep lines that never smoothed out.  He was thirty-eight.”  Irene does her dance, then she and McFee look for the file.  Just as they spot a manila file, they are busted.

13.

Melrose’s goons take McFee to see him.  Turns out Melrose doesn’t have the Shelldon File either, but thinks McFee does.  The cops bust in and break up the fun.  McFee convinces them to let him have a minute alone with Melrose.

14. & 15.

McFee explains everything.  It all makes sense and there were even clues along the way.  I must admit to missing the naughtiness of the Spicy Mega-pack; especially in a story called Stag Party which takes place mostly in places with dancey girls.  It is a great read, though, and even has a nice dark ending.  Hehe, Butte Street.

Post-Post:

  • [1] There is a Scudder Cup in yachting, but I don’t see anything called a Scudder Yacht so it must be the owner’s name.  Strangely enough, the phrase “Scudder’s yacht” appeared in the November 23, 1874 edition of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Newspaper.
  • First published in the November 1933 edition of Black Mask.
  • Also that month:  Duck Soup released.

Twilight Zone – Gramma (02/14/86)

There is just not a lot to grab on to here, but that is a reflection on my deficiencies, not the segment’s.  For almost all of the run time, the only character is 11 year old George and he is very good.

The story taps into some shared but seldom discussed fears:  Fear of the otherness of really old people, fear of responsibility, and fear of helplessness.  And all are handled well.  There is some witchery involved, but the human elements are the scariest.

George is left alone with his Gramma while his mother goes to see his brother in the hospital.  The ancient, morbidly obese, intermittently senile old woman is terrifying to George under the best of circumstances.  When he is the temporary man of the house, his anxiety escalates.

I watched it, then watched it two more times with different commentaries, then read the short story.  Both the segment and the story are very good.  The short story really didn’t need to be 28 pages, but that’s typical Stephen King.

And that’s about all I have to say about that.

Post-Post:

  • Based on Stephen King’s short story in Skeleton Crew.  I have the hard-back with a cover price of $18.95.  That would be $42 in today’s dollars so I must have bought it hugely discounted at CostCo.  I’m not sure I ever actually read this story since it was the 3rd to last story and I have a habit of bailing before I finish anthologies.
  • There is a toy monkey on the kitchen counter that looks suspiciously like the one on the cover of Skeleton Crew.