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.

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.

Double Check – Thomas Walsh (1933)

1,154 pages and 2.8 pounds — interesting in concept, but nearly impossible to read.

Devine was a small, slender man, thin-featured and quick of manner.  So it’s not Andy.  Or Divine.

He is a banker who is telling Detective Flaherty about blackmail letters he has been receiving. Unfortunately he lacked the foresight to save the letters for the police.  After getting a phone-call from the extortionists, he called the cops. The only clue is that he heard one of the men use the name Jigger.

Flaherty’s partner Mike Martin knows a Jigger Burns and says, “Jigger is a peter man.” I don’t even want to Google that.  Luckily, we are soon told that means he is a nitro expert.  The only blowing he does is -up safes.  Because Jigger was recently seen talking to Johnny Grecco, they somehow make the leap to question Grecco.  They head to the Esplanade to pick him up.

Grecco is not at the club, but one of his lackeys points out his girlfriend charmingly referred to as “the Polack.”  She is giving dime dances for $.25 so Flaherty hires her for a song.  Martin heads over to Flaherty’s house after he gets another threat about him calling the police.  While Flaherty is waiting for Grecco to show up, Martin calls in to say, “Someone laid a pineapple in Devine’s car.  Him and the chauffeur was blown to hell.”  Maybe it was that peter man.  Because of the nitro, I mean.

Flaherty returns to the club and looks around.  He asks, “Where’s that tall blonde, the Polack girl?”  She called in sick, tired of being the butt of two series of jokes impugning her intelligence [1].  He plays the cop-card, gets her name — Anna Brinski — and her address.  He busts into her apartment and finds her holding a pair tickets to Los Angeles, packing a whistle and a clipboard because the tickets said coach class.  That is enough for Flaherty to haul her downtown, although I’m still not seeing the connection.  A man comes to the door.  After a struggle, Flaherty shoots him.  As he is searching the body, Anna conks him on the head with a brass vase.

Flaherty wakes up half an hour later, but Anna is gone.  He identifies the dead man as Devine’s assistant, but can’t figure out his involvement.  He finds a piece of paper with “1934” written on it.  He staggers down the stairs of her apartment.  In front of Anna’s building, a man tries to shoot him from a passing car.  It would have been much easier to kill Flaherty in Anna’s apartment but the car could never have taken that tight corner at the base of the stairs.

After seeing an explosion in Devine’s bank, Flaherty goes to the only hotel in town tall enough to have a 19th floor.  Oh, and he calls the house dick.  Hehe.  Maybe to catch the peter man.  In room 1934, he finds Anna, Grecco, and the very much alive Devine. Flaherty puts all the pieces together.  The man killed in the explosion was a decoy for the similarly built Jigger. [2]  His pieces were not put together.

“Anna screamed suddenly, seeing the sudden bulge in the banker’s pocket.”

Since it is neither the house dick nor the peter man, it is just a pistol.  Yada yada, a bunch of cash and two honest cops.

Post-Post:

  • [1] How does she find her way to work in the morning?  Wakes up, goes home . . .
  • [2] Hey, the plot to Fletch!
  • First published in Black Mask in July 1933.
  • Born that month:  Joan Rivers & Gene Wilder.
  • The 2nd story in the collection to mention a flivver.