Chicago Confetti – William Rollins, Jr. (1932)

Coleman Fuller shows up in the office of detective Percy Warren.  His rich uncle Henry Fuller was bumped off and he doesn’t trust the police to get the killer.  He admits he found Warren by going to the Yellow Pages and backing up through the private dicks. Not only does he not seem to appreciate the insult to Warren, but that was also a shot out of nowhere against Nero Wolfe and V.I. Warshawski.  On the other hand, given that this was 1932, I guess we should just be thankful he didn’t find Charlie Chan in the Yellow Pages.

They meet up again at the office of Fuller’s lawyer Bond, Harley Bond.  Bond says if he had known Fuller was in need of some private dicking, he would have recommended a bigger agency.  Although, it sounds like Warren is getting dicked around pretty good as it is.

Bond says the fee for finding the killer has been set at $10,000 [1] by Carl Fuller, Coleman’s uncle.  Henry Fuller croaked and left $20M to his siblings, but excluded his bother John, and John’s son Coleman.  That’s a pretty good motive right there.[2]

To begin his investigation, Warren goes to see the Fuller’s valet Jobson.  After a pleasant chat, the valet hurries out to an appointment which the author seems to imply means he’s going to a prostitute.  Left alone, Warren asks the switchboard boy if he’d like to make a quick 10 bucks.

“I guess a 10 spot wouldn’t look bad to you, hah?”

He eyed me funny.  “Well . . .”

“Don’t worry.  Nothing like that, buddy.”

So what did the switchboard boy think Warren had in mind for $165 in 2017 dollars? This author has a one-track mind.  The dough was to allow Warren to take over the switchboard.  He takes a call from Jobson asking for Miss Kelly.  Jobson tells her to have an unnamed man meet him in room 311.  Warren traces the call to the Stopover Inn, hangout of the Lewis Gang.

Warren checks in to the Stopover and gets room 317.  He tiptoes down the hall to listen at the door of 311.  He hears two men talking briefly before the cops show up — well, one cop and the lawyer Bond.  A passing truck prevents him from hearing much.  The the cop, Bond and Jobson leave the hotel.  Warren sneaks on the ledge over to 311 to find the other man, but Miss Kelly catches him.  She spotted the other man and his description sounds like Spike Lewis of the Lewis Gang.

Warren goes back to Jobson’s building.  He calls up to warn Jobson about the Lewis Gang, but the call is cut short by a gunshot.  Warren goes upstairs and finds Jobson dead, but someone placed the phone back on the hook.  Warren looks around the valet’s home.  The first three rooms are bedrooms, then he goes to the bathroom, dining room and kitchen. Note to self:  Look into lucrative field of valeting.

Blah blah, for reasons I’m not even sure of, the rest of the story bored me to death.  At the end, after the lawyer Bond is naturally revealed as vile, opportunistic, immoral, but also a murderer, Warren and Coleman come together.

“And I suppose you know what a low-life like me wants to do when he’s come into a juicy bit of money.”

“Exactly,” he murmured.  He reached in his pocket and pulled out a full pint flask, and after I took a good pull at it, he finished it off himself.  “That,” he said, “is just about enough to last us until we reach the nearest speak.”

I looked him over again; and I liked his looks.

“Exactly,” I said.

I hope he kept the key to room 317; sounds like he’s going to need it.

Post-Post:

  • [1] Holy crap — that’s $165,000 in 2017 dollars!
  • [2] Actually, it’s a terrible motive.  Why kill the guy if there is a chance you might end up back in the will someday?  Maybe he’ll need a kidney.
  • First published in the March 1932 issue of Black Mask.  Also that month: fore-seeing digital cameras will destroy his company in 75 years, Kodak founder George Eastman preemptively kills himself.
  • Title Analysis:  So bullets are confetti?  Kind of dopey.

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.

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.