Honest Money – Erle Stanley Gardner (1932)

Ken Corning, a fighting young lawyer, tries to earn an honest living in a city of graft.

This is the first story in a series following idealistic young lawyer Perry Mason Ken Corning and his assistant Della Street Helen Vail.  They were clearly the prototype for Gardner’s later series, but with less obstruction of justice.  Seriously, I read 3 Perry Mason novels and his primary skill seems to be corrupting the evidence so no jury and few readers could follow it.

Cornings’ first client is Sam Parks.  Rather than simply see the man, the attorney first puts Helen through a ruse where she types pages of nonsense for three minutes and rushes it in to him as if it were 3 hours of billable time.

Sam Parks’ wife has been arrested for running a speakeasy.  Christ, what is this, Prohibition?  Oh.[1]  I like that as the cops busted into his establishment, Parks quickly pretended to be a customer by sitting down at an uncleared table and eating the erstwhile patron’s scraps.  Mrs. Parks, quite a good sport, played along and even collected the bill from him, although that 10% tip will not benefit him later.  She is hauled off to the can, the jug, the slam, the big house, the joint, the hoosegow, the pokey, the clink.

Immediately after Parks leaves, Corning gets a visit from Perkins, the cop who busted the restaurant.  Corning refuses to give him any info on Parks.  He then gets a visit from Carl Dwight.  Lawyers setting up a card table at a bus accident don’t get this much traffic.  Dwight is the local fixer, an operative of the political machine.  He offers Corning a $500 “retainer” to play ball, but Corning throws it back in his face.

After Corning pays a visit to Mrs. Parks at the prison, Mr. Parks calls to say he his coming back into the office.  Unfortunately, Parks is shot twice just outside Corning’s window.  Corning goes down to check things out.[2]  Actually he does show Perry Mason’s proclivity for hindering an investigation.  Among other things, he pockets a newspaper from Parks’ parked car.  There was an article cut out that covered Harry Dike’s appointment as superintendent of the Water Department — presumably no relation to the hairy dykes Mrs. Parks was meeting in prison.

The article said Dike was “firmly opposed to the granting of contracts and concessions to those with political pull, and that in the future the Water Department would be conducted upon a basis of efficiency with all work thrown open to the lowest responsible bidder.”  How was he not the one shot?  There is good reason as this seemingly virtuous Water Department jefe is just another thug.  He had been in a car accident with Mrs. Parks, while he was traveling with Carl Dwight the political fixer he was supposed to oppose.  She made trouble and had to be dealt with.  That’s Chinatown, Jake.

Mason Corning ties it all together and the story wraps up with yet more characters, a meeting in a restaurant, some counterfeiting hijinks, and even Corning getting off a few gunshots.  Despite being written 85 years ago, the writing has a contemporary feel. Gardner is able to make a raft of characters and an intertwining plot simple enough that I only had to read it twice to understand it.

Another good entry, although I miss the titular spiciness of the Spicy Adventure Megapack.

Post-Post:

  • [1] 1920 – 1933.
  • [2] In a sign of the times, he stands out in the crowd because he is hatless.
  • First published in Black Mask in November 1932.
  • Also that month:  FDR first elected.
  • When he died in 1970, Gardner was the best-selling author in history.

The Creeping Siamese – Dashiell Hammett (1926)

Please be a cat, please be a cat . . .

Another* first-person story, so here we go . . .

I was filling out an expense report at the Continental Detective agency.  Between “Tuesday . . . Whiskey” and “Wednesday . . . Whiskey”, a man entered the office.  He was tall, raw-boned, hard-faced . . . his skin showed the color of new brown shoes . . . he had bony hands . . . his face was ugly and grim . . . he had the expression of man who is remembering something disagreeable.  But he had a lovely smile . . . no wait, he had clenched yellow teeth.

The brute had bigger problems — a knife wound in his chest.  He dropped to the office floor like a sack of ugly.  Hoping to catch his killer in the hall, I was able to bolt through the office, and hurdle the banister like Jesse Owens; although I was able to do it through the front entrance.  All I found was Agnes from the steno pool who said the man had come in — understandably — alone.

Upon closer examination, he had been stabbed in the left breast [1] and tried to stop the bleeding with a strip of red cloth torn from a sarong.  He had $900 on him which would have bought a couple of Model T’s and a Model A.  He also had a key from the Hotel Montgomery; maybe he had parked the T & A there.  The house dick told me the key was for a room rented by a man named HR Rounds.  Detective O’Gar joined us, but we didn’t find anything but a bag of new clothes.  At 11:00, O’Gar and I separated in the direction of our respective beds.  We didn’t stay apart long . . . . . . . there’s got to be a better way to say that.

O’Gar phoned me at 12:55 am, and summoned me to 1856 Broadway.  There had been an invasion at the 3-story house of Austin Richter.  The four intruders had come from the land of sarongs, so I was notified.  This is an exciting new investigative technique called “profiling” that I’m confident no one will ever have a problem with.

The homeowner’s wife, which is what we called the homeowner in those days, urged her husband to tell his story.  Their friend Sam Molloy came by yesterday and said he was stabbed by a Siamese.  He was on the way to the hospital, but first wanted to drop off a package for safe-keeping, then maybe shoot a game of pool.  That night, four Siamese men broke in.  In the scuffle, Mr. Richter was shot in the leg, and the men took the package.

After we searched the house, I was able to a shoot hole in Richter’s story to match the one in his leg.  I must proudly say it all hinged on the fact that Richter could not have seen the Siamese men after dark; not even if they were smiling.  [I must emphasize that is directly from the text; OK, not the smiling part]  And “Mrs. Richter” was actually the dead man’s wife.  O’Gar said that wasn’t enough to arrest him, but whattya expect from an Irishman?

After some argument, the woman spilled her guts, although not as literally as Rounds aka Molloy.  Richter was actually Holley, and Rounds / Molloy was actually Lange.  Her tale spanned the world from China to Burma, although that isn’t really far when you think about it.  And of course there were natives and jewels.  The story just gets more complex after they arrive in the US.

This was enough for O’Gar, or maybe he had just sobered up a little.  He had them arrested, and they got 20 years each.

Although this collection certainly has a better pedigree than The Pulp Fiction Megapack, I’m not sure I’m enjoying it as much.  1,117 pages to go.

Post-Post:

  • First published in The Black Mask in March 1926.
  • [1] The oddly specific popular location for many penetrations in Spicy Adventure Stories.  Well, second most popular.  Hey-ooooo.

One, Two, Three – Paul Cain (1933)

Great, a story told in 1st person so I will never know who the speaker is unless he talks in front of a mirror.  When in Rome, IL . . .

I was trailing a man named Healey.  He had slipped out of Chicago two hours ahead of me and headed for Los Angeles.  Gard, an op from another agency, mentioned that Healey had been seen in Caliente, Nevada.  I mistakenly went to see Frank Caliendo in Las Vegas, then after the show headed to Caliente.  Healey was in the second place I looked; the first being all the places he wasn’t.

He was in a small-time poker game.  During a break he bought cocktails for the rubes at his table, while having lemonade himself.  I asked if he knew a bookie from back east named Lonnie that I knew he knew but he didn’t know that I knew.  We became thick as pudgy thieves, even though only one of us was; a thief I mean.  Frankly, both of us could lose a few pounds.   Healey had ripped off a railroad for $150k and nearly been busted when he tried to put a hotel on it.

That night, Healey came to my room.  He needed to get out of town quick before the missus caught up with him again.  There was a deal with blackmail and also a deal with a white male who claimed to be her brother.  Healey was just in Nevada to get a quickie divorce at the Elvis Divorce Chapel & Muffler Shop.  I agreed to drive him back to Los Angeles.  He had no luggage, like many boobs leaving NV with just the shirt on his back.

While I was waiting for him in the car, I heard 5 shots from the hotel.  Like a dope, I went back in.  Upstairs, I found Healey dead of gunshot wounds and his wife stabbed to death with a pistol in her mitts.  Witnesses had seen Healey picking his teeth with the knife at the 24 hour buffet.  Among the missing:  $150k, less some chump-change in the chump’s pocket.

My guess was that Healey had gone upstairs to knock off his wife, using me as the getaway driver.  Her alleged brother must have interrupted, shooting Healey in the back after he had stabbed the woman.  Now he had looted the loot.  This seemed plausible until Gard told me the dead woman was not Healey’s wife.

Gard and I paid a visit to the real Mrs. Healey.  She was a hot dame with snappy gams, a real pip.  She seemed genuinely distraught at Healey’s murder.  She had been hoping they could patch things up.  Plans had already been made to ship her husband’s dead body back home to Detroit where it would not be noticed.

Back at my hotel, I got a wire from Chicago.  The dead woman was a contortionist extortionist who worked with her husband Arthur Raines, who pretended to be her brother for 23 hours and 58 minutes each day.  Her fake brother’s real brother William Raines was listed as a contact — and I’m assuming it is his brother — this is 1933, for God’s sake.

I staked out casa de Raines until I saw a man I assumed to be him get in a cab.  We followed the cab until the driver looked back and our eyes met.  I had seen him at the scene of the crime!  Then he took off, leaving us in the dust.  I cursed and embarrassed myself in front of the cab driver — dammit why do they all speak English!

Thinking about taking a train back to New York, I drove by Mrs. Healey’s apartment one last time.  I spotted a blue Chrysler out front that I had seen in Nevada.  I slipped the spick elevator boy a buck, and went up — er, I hope no one reads this in 84 years [ed:  probably close to the truth].  I could hear through the door that the man and Mrs. Healey were talking, but why would they be together?  Hearing a scream, I busted in.

Mrs. Healey — and by this point, I really wish I had gotten her first name — was up against a wall as two men wrestled on the floor.  Arthur Raines and my pal Gard were fighting for a gun.  I was able to easily pick up the gun and conk Raines on the noggin. Then Gard conked me.  Then Mrs. Healey conked Gard.  The titular One, Two, Three.

When we all regained consciousness, Raines explained the whole complex story.  My head was still pounding; mostly from hearing the whole complex story.  Mrs. Healey fled to New Zealand and wisely bought property in The Shire.

I found out the next day I had a concussion and was kept in the hospital for 9 days until they realized there was no such thing as HooverCare.  The whole Healey ordeal cost me about a grand.

While I enjoyed this story, I’m not sure I enjoyed it so much that facing another 1,125 pages isn’t scaring me.

Post-Post:

  • First published in Black Mask in May 1933.
  • Also that month:  the Loch Ness Monster was first spotted.  Possibly related, this was 2 months after Prohibition ended . . . well, 4,000 miles away.  But the Scots were probably loaded anyway. [pffft – various accounts suggest other dates]
  • Written by Paul Cain.
  • No wait, that was a pseudonym for Peter Ruric.
  • Not so fast, that was a nom de plume used by George Carrol Sims because he had a girl name; no, I mean George.