Category Archives: Western Fiction

Contents Vol. 2 No. 6

Welcome to Volume Two, Number Six of Dime Pulp,
A Serial Pulp Fiction Magazine

In Issue Six, Dime Pulp, A Serial Pulp Fiction Magazine, is adding two new pulp serials to the ongoing lineup. Beginning in this issue, the steampunk saga Cheése Stands Alone (previewed in Volume I, No. 6) featuring Airship Commander Lydia Cheése (pronounced “Chase”)  makes its official entry into the Dime Pulp roster. Also joining Phyllis Haldursdottir’s global saga as a new serial is Just Coincidence, a familiar fiction of dynastic intrigue and the dark revenge of a masked crime crusader.

In the first installment of Pierre Anton Taylor’s Just Coincidence, a privileged young man revisits his childhood neighborhood now a ghetto of poverty and crime. An emotional connection to an old mentor and an overwhelming nostalgia  move him to act against the injustice of social marginalization. That he is a dark prince as well as a dark knight is just coincidence.

In the steampunk world of Airship Commander Lydia Cheése, history has taken a sharp left or a right turn (depending on your point of view) in 1892 and the familiar events of history are turned upside down if they even happened at all. It is the year 180 of Pax Victoriana, one hundred and eighty years since Queen Victoria took the throne and whose persona if not the actual person, are kept alive as the paragon of world peace. Britannia still rules the waves as well as the airship lanes, mostly in the Northern Hemisphere and some of the Southern with the exception of  the carbon states New Brazil and United Outlaw Africa. Cheése Stands Alone begins with Captain Lydia Cheése  redoubling the effort to locate her fugitive father, the infamous Commodore Jack “Wild Goose” Cheése, which has brought her to the attention of  the Agents of The Admiralty (AOTA), and which will make her next three months of the year 180 PV an airship globetrotting adventure.

Number Eight of On The Road To Las Cruces reaches a crucial point in this fictional retelling of the last day in the life of a legendary Western lawman where memory becomes a dialogue with one’s self in the justification of a killing and a blind pride that leads to to death.

And last but not least Installment 18 of The 1940 detective story, Better Than Dead (Dime Pulp’s longest running serial), follows hapless confidential investigator Lackland Ask through another tangle of tense circumstances as his quest for revenge and profit are continually thwarted by kidnapping, murder, attempted murder as well as stolen diamonds and the mysterious jade Empress’s Cucumber. That he has a young adventuress in tow only complicates matters.

Dime Pulp Yearbook 21 contains the novels (The Last Resort and Better Than Dead) and the short fiction (Hard Boiled Myth and Gone Missing) of Volume One’s 12 issues,  available for perusal in their entirety. If you missed a few issues or lost the thread of a serial, clicking on the link at the beginning of this paragraph or on the menu bar above is a good way to catch up.

Dime Pulp continues its crime spree with two new pulp fiction serializations, Cheése Stands Alone by Phyllis Haldursdottir and Just Coincidence by Pierre Anton Taylor, as well as the continuing serialization of the pulp crime fiction of  Better Than DeadA Detective Story and the Western, On The Road To Las Cruces . If you’ve made it this far, go ahead and follow the links below to reading entertainment with the serial contents of Volume Two, Number 6

 —Perry O’Dickle, chief scribe
and word accountant


Knapp-Felt 1930 1930s USA mens hats

“Lackland Ask is the name. ‘Lack’ to my friends, ‘Don’t’ to those who think they’re funny. You might have seen my portrait on the cover of Black Mask, the crime fiction magazine. This is my story. It starts with a blonde. This kind of story always starts with a blonde.” Thus begins the seemingly non-stop, endless narrative of Better Than Dead in which women are not the only trouble although most of it, told with the wit and street savvy of Runyon and Parker.

Better Than Dead—18


otrpic1fi2In late February of 1908, a one-time drover, buffalo hunter, saloon owner, hog farmer, peach grower, horse rancher, US Customs inspector, private investigator, county sheriff, and Deputy US Marshal set out from his adobe home on the mesa above Organ, New Mexico accompanied by a young man in a black buggy on the journey to Las Cruces. He would never arrive. This is the story of that journey, a novel account of the last day in the life of a legendary lawman.

On The Road To Last Cruces ~Eight~


lydcirIn March of 1892, a Scotsman by the name of Arthur C. “Artie” Doyle was hanged by the neck until dead after being found guilty of a string of grisly murders of prostitutes in Whitechapel. At that moment, history veered off its presumed course and headed in a direction all its own in which the Great War never happened because the Kaiser was afraid of offending his grandmother, Queen Victoria, whose life has been prolonged by the wonders of biology. The peace of her reign, known as the Pax Victoriana, despite some major environmental disasters, has lasted 180  years keeping as many Victorian airs as possible while making accommodations to bio technology. Cheése Stands Alone poses a steampunk question, can Captain Lydia Cheése find her father, the antigovernment turncoat and radical, Commodore Jack “Wild Goose” Cheése. And furthermore, will her quest take her around the globe and through alternate world histories in the requisite 80 days or is it the beginning of a lifelong journey?

Cheése Stands Alone I


fury circle1fiIn Just Coincidence, a privileged young man with the unremarkable name of Wayne Bruce returns to the site where his father once had his business, a battery manufacturing plant, and where he often spent his childhood days hanging around the factory and the neighborhood. His return is haunted by the mysterious circumstances surrounding his father’s death and the vague feeling that his uncle is somehow involved.  Appalled by the poverty and crime of the place he remembers fondly, he is moved to resolve the injustice of the socially marginalized and to wreak vengeance on those he believes are responsible for the death of his father. A personal coincidence brings together dark prince and a dark knight joined together in a fateful and tragic quest for justice

Act One. Scene 1

Act One, Scene 1

By Pierre Anton Taylor

The old neighborhood had changed for the worse. The high brick wall that had once been a part of his father’s factory was covered with ivy creepers, mottles of lichen, and faded graffiti. Sickly yellowing weeds grew between the cracks in the broken sidewalk. At the curb, obscured by plastic trash and piles of leaves,  stood an old sycamore whose roots has caused the cement to buckle, a last remnant of when the area had been tree shaded, thriving, catering to the employees from the battery works..

He stood in front of the candy store he had frequented as a youngster. It hadn’t changed much, just become a little shabbier. The white paint on the double front doors had bubbled and peeled. The storefront windows near the entrance, repaired with duct tape and cardboard, looked as if a hole  had been punched through it.

JCA1S2“That’s quite an antique.” A square shouldered black man on the step leading up into the store spoke the words. He was referring to the black sedan parked at the curb.

“It’s a 1960 Plymouth Fury. Fully restored.”

“I know that. I was about your age when I would have given my right arm for one of those.” He held up the stub of his right arm. “Instead I gave it for my country in Vietnam.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.” The young man grimaced. He always felt uncomfortable saying it because it was such a cliche. “Thank you for your service.”

“Wasn’t your fault. I just got careless. Ripley’s the name, by the way. I didn’t catch yours.”

“Wayne, Wayne Bruce.” He felt a little awkward as he extended his hand, but the black man grasped it firmly with his left.

“And what brings you to this neighborhood, Mr. Bruce? Lost? Or looking to pick up some cheap real estate?”

Wayne Bruce shook his head and glanced around again, reorienting himself after so many years. Abandoned buildings and the apartment towers that used to teem with activity now appeared worn and past their use by date. The brick enclosure to the crumbling factory site he used to think of as towering had retained some of its respectability if not its height. The candy store abutting the wall emitting a faint single source amber light, the tavern on the corner across the street where Central teed into Battery, neon beer sign sputtering in the dark round window open for business.

Ripley kept his gaze fixed on the young man, a lithe six foot two, tangle of dark hair framing a square face and jaw, dark intense eyes under darker eyebrows, and with a deferential confidence to his manner. A tailored black gabardine three quarter length coat with attached cowl draped snugly across the broad shoulders. The crew collared dark gray jersey clung to the shape of the angular torso topping a pair of slim black slacks and casual half boots.

Bruce then smiled and indicated the candy shop. “I used to come here when I was a youngster. My favorite candy was a Chunky bar. Mr. Rick still the owner?”

Ripley showed a frown and squinted at the tall young man. “You know old Rick?”

“Sure, he made the best egg-cream around.”

Ripley’s frown intensified, taking a closer look at the white man who had just parked his antique Plymouth on one of the roughest streets on the east end of the city. “No, he don’t do that no more. Hasn’t done that in a real long time, make egg-creams. Kids today don’t know what egg-cream is. But you are right, he made the best.”

A stiff breeze rattled the branches of the sycamore and persuaded some of the last leaves to release their grip and float reluctantly to the concrete. Both men looked in the direction the wind had come, at the lead gray mass hovering over the tall spires and square silhouettes of the downtown district, the tawny streak of late afternoon sky crushed by darker clouds at the horizon.

“You say Bruce? That your name? Like this place here?” Ripley pointed to the grim shadows hovering above the wall and the sign that had been creatively overwritten.. “Bruce Battery Manufacturer? That you?”

Wayne nodded. “My father.”

candystore1“The Battery Man. I remember the billboards. Nobody Beats A Bruce! You that kid? I heard about you. Come on, come on in.” He pushed the door open and the hinge squeaked like a cry for help. “He’s in the back, come on.”

Bruce didn’t need urging to step up and in. The candy store was familiar though smaller than he remembered it. The counter with the white scale, now a nicotine yellow, atop the display case of penny candy, jaw breakers, licorice whips, and candy bars. A diagonal crack mended with yellowing translucent tape ran across the display glass. On the back wall by the cash register the slotted black shelves of tobacco products mostly empty. There were plastic toys and odds and ends household items, clothespins, wooden matches, boxes of plastic forks and knives on shelves along the opposite wall. A rack next to the shelves displayed an assortment of flimsy plastic Halloween costumes and masks from the holiday a few weeks past. Boxes, some unopened, some empty, were stacked on the floor toward the rear of the small space where a doorway was covered with a threadbare flowered green curtain stirred by the sound of shuffling behind it.

“Yo! Rick! Hey! Old man! Somebody here to see you!” Ripley’s grin was mirthful, glee ringing his eyes.

A grave low voice answered, “If it’s Kerr, I already gave him my answer. What don’t he get about ‘shove it’? The curtain parted to a frown under a head of close cropped silver wool and a mean squint distorting the dark brown face. Pale framed thick lensed glasses held together at the bridge by a bulge of masking tape sat on a crooked nose, the tip of which appeared lighter than the rest of the ebony exterior.

The old man came to a stop, a walking cane in each hand, and craned his tall torso forward. “Who are you? You don’t look one of Kerr’s. . . ?” He gave a sidelong glance at Ripley who was trying to maintain his composure and not burst out laughing, and then turned to face the tall young man in black. A smile slowly cracked the harsh demeanor exposing red gums and missing teeth. “It’s you, ain’t it? I’d know that canary eating grin anywhere.” To Ripley, he snapped, “What you laughing at? I don’t see nothing funny!”

Easing himself behind the candy counter, Richard Richards, Mr. Rick to most of his customers, took up his iconic position in the eyes of the young man. “Lemme guess. A Chunky bar.” At the young man’s nod, he slide open the rear door to the display case and reached in. “You remember how much you used to pay for one of these?” he asked as he set the foil wrapped candy on the top of the counter.

chunky1Wayne paused to recall. “A quarter.” And then, “But I remember when they went up to fifty cents because I came in one day and all I had was twenty five cents, two dimes and a nickel, and you told me that the price had gone up. But you sold it to me anyway, that I could pay the rest next time.”

The old man chuckled. “That’s right. And you shoulda seen the look on your face when you realized you didn’t have the right amount. You mighta cried.”

“Did I ever pay you back? I don’t remember. I hope I did.”

“I don’t recall either. Not that it matters after all this time.” He held up the silver square. “Nowadays one of these will set you back five dollars! Think anyone can afford that?”

Ripley nodded in assent, “Not around here they can’t, that’s for damn sure!”

“This young man here used to keep track of my inventory. He knew every candy I carried and how much of it I had. He’d come in here with his daddy and name off everything I had in the case. I carried newspapers back then, and Mr. Bruce would come in for his morning and his afternoon edition. He always had this one in tow. Go straight to the glass and put his nose up against it.” He shook his head in recollection. “Time’s are gone.” And addressing young Bruce, “I’m sorry to hear of his passing.”

The tips of Wayne’s ear’s reddened, darkening them, and he twisted a grin in agreement and acceptance of the condolences. And as if to offset the tension of the emotion, he pointed to the soda vending machine garish edifice over to one side in the corner, the only thing that seemed out of place. “I remember the big red cooler you used to have there. It rattled whenever the compressor came on. The first time I heard it I nearly jumped out of my shorts. That and the treasure hoard of candy were my first impression of this place. And you used to have a comic book rack over there too. I spent a lot of time sitting on the floor reading them. Those are good memories, Mr. Rick.”

“Aw, you were a pest, always asking questions, you were curious about everything. And then you went away to school, somewhere, some place foreign I heard. Your mother sent you off to get a [proper education. And you’d come by every once in a while when you were home visiting, and I seen you were developing into a fine young man, taking more after your ma than your husky pop, though. She only come in here with you a couple times I can remember but I could tell she was high toned.” He lowered his eyes at the memory, “She doing well, is she?”

Wayne gazed out at the failing light of the darkening street. He nodded, “Yes,” as if to himself. “Mother is doing well as can be expected. Dad’s brother, Harold, is taking care of the details, managing the Bruce business empire.” A hint of bitterness in his attitude. “Life goes on even if not for Wallace W. Bruce.” He erased the frown with a bright smile as if it had never been there. “I thought that while I was in town for the funeral I’d see if I could still get a Chunky at the only place I know that sells them.”

Rick gave an appreciative guffaw. “Well, you are in luck, this is the last one! I stopped carrying them half a dozen years ago when the price went up to two dollars. I didn’t think anyone would ever want a square of chocolate, nuts, and raisins that bad. I kept this one as a souvenir of when candy was cheaper than crack.” He pointed to the shelves behind the display glass. “You see anything in here that reminds you of a Zagnut or Good & Plenty or a Clark Bar, Abba Zaba, Big Hunk, JuJuBes, Milk Duds, or Pay Day?”

“You had those little wax bottles with fruit syrup in them. . . .”

“Yeah, Nickle-A-Nips, go for over a dollar now. I can’t get a lot of those old candies anymore. It’s my distributor, he carries all these off brands. You ever hear of a Ball Park? it’s shaped like a frankfurter, made mostly of sawdust as near as I can tell, and held together with a chocolate tasting glue. Bigga Jigga? I don’t even want to think what it’s made of, but I heard somebody lost a tooth biting into one, pulled it clean out of his gums. And Plenty Good? Just a box of hard candy pieces swept up off the candy factory floor. O’Hara’s? Some kind of high fructose soybean glop, and Dummies, just little pills of color flavored chalk. This Wacky Wax? It’s just artificially sweetened wax. That can’t be good for your gut.”

Ripley nodded vigorously, “Eat enough of that, stick a wick up your butt and call you a candle.”

“You might need a new distributor.” Wayne offered with an understated chuckle.

Rick shook his head. “No, can’t, Kerr controls the East Central District. He has a say in just about everything that gets bought and sold in this neighborhood. His guy makes me carry these knockoffs and threatens me when they don’t sell! He made me install that drink vender. It’s expensive, besides. Has to stay plugged in all the time, uses more lectricity than the rest of the shop! Usta carry his girly magazines but it just attracted the kids, and they’d want to shoplift something, sometimes because they thought they needed it, other times just because they thought they could. Sell ‘em under the counter now, you gotta ask to see ‘em, and if you’re asking, you buying one.”

“Kerr? Where have I seen that name, from around here?”

“Joeseph Kerr. That’s his warehouse down the block, in the old garment factory, you mighta seen the sign painted on the side of the building when you turned down Central coming into the neighborhood.”

“I did. Kerr Novelty, Inc. Big letters.”

“Big crook, if you ask me. Came from out east about ten years ago. He’s got his fingers in other pots, too, buying up real estate. He owns Quinn’s, the tavern across the street, and the old folks apartment building next door. I heard he was partnering with some developers for a project down at the other end of Battery. Bound to be a boondoggle like most projects in this town.”

“Calling the cops ain’t gonna do no good. They take forever to get to this end of town. Kerr’s probably paying off somebody at the precinct to lay off in his turf.”

“And he’s been looking at the old factory site, your pop’s place.” Ripley spoke up. “Heard he wants to move his operation to over there.”

Rick threw him a quick glance. “B, you know that’s just a rumor. Ain’t no truth to that.”

“Yeah, that’s what I overheard at Q’s. And you know why that’s bad news for you.”

“Yes I know, but no need to talk about something ain’t gonna happen until after I’m dead.”

“You see, man, this building, old Rick’s crib in back, the candy store, they all on the factory property. Somebody buy that factory, they get the candy store in the deal.”

Wayne cocked his head to one side, “Is that true? I’d have to look up the property deed in the company archives.”

“No, no, Bion is right. This is part of the factory property. It had been the foundry foreman’s residence before the site was converted to  Bruce Battery Works. I was one of your old man’s original employees back when he started out. Then after the accident, well, he helped me. . . .”

“Here, here,” Ripley was pointing out the window as the streetlights sparked to life at the encroaching gray, “The Up To No Good gang, I’Van and J’Van. I haven’t seen them in a while. Somebody musta bailed them out.”

Rick concurred. “They on the prowl early, looking for a stray bird. They must be desperate.”

“You know them?”

Ripley nodded solemnly, “We had occasion to get close.”

Rick chuckled, “Bion ripped open a case of whupass on those boys. They know not to mess with him.”

Bion pointed with his stub. “The redhead? That’s I’Van. He’s a nasty piece of work. The other one, the kid, J’Van, he’s dangerous because he doesn’t know how strong he is. But he’s a follower, not a leader. They do muscle for the local numbers guy, and strong arm the unwary for their nickels and dimes. They try to intimidate everyone else. Those that cross them usually end up in the hospital.”

“The bookie is in Kerr’s pocket. He couldn’t operate without his say so. His boys are the neighborhood pit bulls.” Rick added.

“And they’re taking a close look at your Plymouth at the curb. Might not be to wise to leave it parked there for long. I can go stand by it. They’ll know enough to steer wide.”

Wayne held up his hand. “No, please, I don’t think that will be necessary. Thanks for the offer, Bion, is it? An unusual name if you don’t mind my saying.”

“Naw, man, that’s cool, everybody trips over it. I got it in Nam. It’s because of my last name, Ripley. The guys in the platoon used to call me Believe It Or Not, and it got shortened to BION, and then just B, what most folks knows me calls me.”

“I don’t believe it!” Rick was leaning forward on his canes glaring out the window. “Just this minute, coming down the steps, it’s old lady Winslow, I’m sure of it.”

“Her daughter musta forgot to lock the apartment door again,” Ripley said, a trace of concern in his voice.

“She thinks she’s going shopping, got her purse and her shopping bag. . . .”

“Wait till she gets around the corner to find that the market been closed for two years now.”

“If she gets that far. I didn’t think they’d do that. They are lower than scum. Knocked her down, one of them has got her purse, laughing.”

“Call the cops!” Wayne had started toward the door.

“Calling the cops ain’t gonna do no good. They take forever to get to this end of town. Kerr’s probably paying off somebody at the precinct to lay off in his turf.”

“She might be hurt!” Ripley raced through the door, “Call for an ambulance!”

Rick replied to Wayne’s questioning look, “He was a medic in Nam. He’ll see to her till the meat wagon arrives.”

“The men, they’re gone, where. . . ?”

The old man looked up from dialing the phone, “Can’t have gone far, mighta ducked into Q’s to divvy up the loot.”

Wayne became very quiet, overcome by an ominous calm. He glanced at the Halloween display, the black domino mask with peacock feather eyebrows in its cellophane bag. He unclipped it from the rack and held it up. “How much?”

Rick shook his head. “Try it on first. See if it fits.”

Wayne ripped open the bag and plucked off the feathered decorations and slipping the mask over his eyes. “Better call for a second ambulance.”

He strode down the steps, skirted the rear fins of the Plymouth Fury and stepped quickly across the darkening street pulling the cowl up over his head as the first of the rain began to fall.

quinnsWet occupied the air and chilled it. In the yellow-brown light of the doorway to Quinn’s Tavern, the rain striking the concrete jumped like sparks off a hot griddle. The door opened quietly, disturbing neither the wide shouldered man with the bar towel over his shoulder, gaze intent on the square of color TV mounted above the bar who laughed along with the track, a rheumy asthmatic rasp, or the other two hunched over in the shadows of a back booth, laughing, giggling, but not at the TV, a sitcom about people who frequent a bar similar to this one although certainly less sinister.

The young one looked up, questioning at first and then frowning his face into a growl at the perceived threat. The redhead jerk his eyes up from the emptied contents of the purse like a dog guarding a bone. He was about to raise his head and bark when two rigid fingers jabbed the larynx causing a choking spasm gasp for breath at the same time the base of a palm slammed into the apex of his nose with enough force to render him unconscious. As the dark haired man boy rose to defend his partner, a well-placed kick to the sternum knocked him back into the sitting position with his head bouncing against the tall booth, an open target for the elbow that struck him full face and broke his nose. The man behind the bar had just brought up the shotgun as the round glass ashtray that had been between the two unconscious thugs struck him on the bridge of the nose knocking him down.

A black gloved hand gathered the pile of belongings in the middle of the table and returned them to the purse. There wasn’t much to the loot: a change purse, a wallet stuffed with grocery coupons but no legal tender or credit cards, a lipstick tube, hair pins, an empty pack of spearmint gum, a sheaf of letters held together by a ribbon, the scent of lilac.

No one paid attention to him as he set the purse on the stoop to the apartment house where a few neighbors had gathered with umbrellas to shield the old woman who was sitting up now, looking around bewildered, rubbing the elbow she had hit after being pushed down by the hoodlums. A siren sounded close.

Ripley glanced up once to see the tall cowled figure, eyes shadowed by the black mask before the ambulance’s flashing red and ambers saturated the rain dark street. After the medics had taken over, he stood in the soaking downpour and stared at the empty curb in front of the candy store. He sensed that it was just the beginning, a perfect storm of coincidences gathering at the horizon that would rain down justice and injustice alike, and transform the lives of those who lived in the decaying industrial fringe of the city, a city whose name had always resonated as a cesspit of crime and corruption.


Next Time: Unfortunate Son

Cheése Stands Alone I

by Phyllis Huldarsdottir

Chapter One

Captain Lydia Cheése (pronounced chase), one hand ungloved, read the memo with a frown. Her airship, Orinoco III, had been grounded. An Aerosud cadet stood by at attention in a blue glossy visor cap and the impeccable dark blue company tunic with the distinctive sky blue piping at the collar. Lydia placed her thumb on the bio wax pad of the message board and then pressed her print at the bottom of the white message square. The cadet knuckled a salute. Captain Cheése returned it perfunctorily, and with a sigh. She watched the young woman exit her suite at Doyle House as she peeled off the other maroon porskine glove. “Pshaw,” she said with gritted teeth. G. B. Pshaw was her supervisor, nemesis, and constant irritant at Aerosud HQ. She caught a look at herself in the mirror above the marble mantle of the faux hearth as she unfastened the gold frog at her throat and sloughed off her Aerosud officer’s tropical dress tunic.

AIRSHIPIIIWhat she saw did not please her, a fringe of auburn hair, brow knit into a frown, grey eyes staring back in anger. Not again, she thought. Two groundings in as many weeks, and her suspension only just overturned. Tossing her tunic onto her grandfather’s vraisther smoking chair, she glanced at the stack of documents on the side table. In particular, she eyed the communication she had set aside the day before when she had been too preoccupied with preparing for her flight out of Lesser London to give it much more than a cursory glance. Addressed to her, handwritten in green ink, that in itself unusual, on what felt like a slip of parchment. “Parchment, really?” she said aloud. It was just one of the many come-ons and false leads she had received since she advertised a reward for information as to proof of life of Commander Jack Cheése, her father and the brilliant airship engineer who had disappeared many years ago, around the time she had entered the Air Academy for the freshman term.

The slip of parchment, or faux-par, she wasn’t going to believe that it was actually real, gave an address on Baker Street, Old London, current day, and specifying two in the afternoon. As it was almost four, she grabbed her walking coat and went quickly to the door. “Impulsive!” she imagined her mother saying. But no, not impulsive, an intuition she felt compelled to act on. The preciseness of the hand that had shaped the words “I can help you” tipped her in favor of the certainty of her hunch.

The elevator man gave a bow of recognition as she stepped on, and slid closed the door grill. A quiet whirr of machinery brought them down to the main floor lobby. Off to one side, framed by potted finger palms, was the entrance to the lounge frequented by her fellow lighter-than-air officers. Collectively they were known as litharians and the ships they flew were commonly known as lithairs. She would have been welcome at any table or congregation of hale fellows well met as she was known among them for her cutting wit and outrageous pronouncements as well as the sincerity of her companionship.

Doyle House, where Lydia Cheése maintained a permanent suite, was a hostel catering to the Navair trade, especially their officer class. Crews of ships officers, pilots, navigators, drive engineers also known as chemists represented dozens of navair companies doing business at the aerodrome on the far western edge of Lesser London lodged at Doyle House on layovers from continental and trans-oceanic flights. They flew passenger rigids and cargo semi-rigids, rigs and semi-rigs to those in the trade. Their companies were from all over the flown world. Large luxury passenger transports like Rajair and Anglair. Canamair operated both trans-Atlantic passenger and cargo service, as did Aerosud, Lydia’s employer, based out of Sao Paulo. They offered service to the major ports in Greater London which included Paris, Amsterdam as well as Lesser London where Lydia was now feeling, in a word, ruffled and in no mood for companionship.

The doorman greeted her opening the door, and she crossed the threshold into the torch orange glow of phosphorescent plasma lamps lighting the perpetual brown haze of Lesser London. Her grey walking coat was cut to the knees of the darker grey of her uniform culottes. Her boots were pointy, at heel and toe, and made of supple maroon psuedo, matching her porskine gloves, and fastened along the calf by large pearlite buttons. They made her appear taller, and she was already tall. On her head was a jaunty little cap of ribbons and silk made to look like a tiny bird had nested in the soft pile of auburn hair. She strode down the wide granite steps to the cobbled walkway where the carriages for hire and their drivers waited. She chose one at the head of the line and spoke the address on Baker St.

“Would that be Baker St. West, mum, or would that be Baker St East?” the driver asked over his shoulder, whip testing the haunch of the blocky beast of burden, an equlone, specifically bred for urban drayage. Like mules, they could not reproduce and their life span was less than five years. Small as a pony but as strong as a full grown natural equine, they were cheaper to maintain. Unfortunately, as they approached their end date their pace became slower and slower, signaling a reluctance to hasten their passing.

Lydia glanced at the address on the parchment impatiently. “It just says Baker St.” she said as if that settled it.

“Well, mum, Baker St is a very popular name here in Double L, Lesser London to you, and as I said, there’s East and West Baker St as well as Baker St South, Baker St North, and South Baker St North. Of course there’s also Upper Baker St and Lower Baker St. Upper Baker St Southwest. And Old Upper Baker St. If you understand what I’m saying, mum.”

Lydia restrained herself from knocking the man off his bench. “Take me to the intersection where all these Baker Streets meet!”

“Ah, yes, mum, Baker Square.”  And under his breath, “should have said that in the first place.”

After what seemed like an interminable time, the plodding near death equlone carriage brought a fuming Captain Lydia Cheése to Baker Square, a rather nondescript roundabout, so not literally a square, from which each of the various Baker Streets radiated like the spokes of a wheel. The driver hunched over, shoulders to his ears, as if feeling the heat of her rage.

She disembarked and paid him. “Here you are, sir, a five Victorine, and not a Regina more. You have hindered me long enough.”

row housesBaker’s Square was hemmed in by blocks of apartment dwellings designed to look like rowhouses, stacked one atop the other. They were all the same whichever way you looked. Their sameness caused her a momentary claustrophobia.

A figure approached, steadily, methodically. When it stepped out of the shadows she saw by the cut and buttons it was a constable.

He smiled and saluted her. “Be of any service, mum?”  He was a big man. Lydia looked directly into his eyes. She knew what the tattooed lines radiating from the corner of his left eye meant.

“Yes, perhaps you can. I seem to be unable to find this particular address.”  She showed him the parchment. “Is there not simply a Baker St without any of the bothersome directional appendages?”

The constable studied the square she held out to him and scratched his chin. “Yes, of course there is.”

“Then please be so kind as to direct me.”

“In Old London.”

“Old London, but. . .” It then occurred to her. Old London, not Lesser London. Old London, underground London, the London that Lesser London was built upon.

The Constable pointed to the iron gate set in the granite base of the monument at the center of the Baker Square roundabout. “Tours to Old London just now closed up for the evening. Too dangerous to go down there now, without a guide, and you being a lady and all.”

“Constable, I will have you know that I served as an ensign at the siege of the Bushwhackers. I know what danger is!”

“Aye, mum, I was in the PanAm Wars meself.”

“Yes, that is evident from your eye tat. You were with. . . .”

“The Lost Brigade, yes, mum.”

“You are one of the brave, and I respect that. However, I must to Baker St. I am already late!”  Lydia strode toward the iron gate.

“It’s not safe, mum,” he called after her.

 

 

Chapter Two

At the bottom of the concrete steps joining the cobblestones of Old London the bacterial-sodium lamps lit dimly shades of grey and black as flat as house paint. A man in a dusty worn gray shirt, pants, and shoes stood against an almost identically gray wall beside a weathered gray real wood produce cart upon which were displayed row upon row of bright though somewhat desiccated illegal Valencia oranges. Lydia was about to ask directions when she saw the street name in plain view attached to the side of a dingy gray brick facade. Real brick, not that faux coral that was used now almost exclusively for building exteriors. She’d always been under the impression that Old London was shuttered after daylight hours yet a goodly press of people, all dressed in the varying shades of gray, black, and brown of their surroundings, shuffled past like shadows, busy about their business. Brighter light splashed out onto the cobbles from storefronts, and distantly, music and singing could be heard. There were also clots of men clustered around porn boxes listening to the endearments of courtesans. Others stood in doorways and eyed passers-by.

Lydia proceeded down Baker St searching out the house numbers, peering into alcoves and letting her eye follow the buildings’ truncations as the support to Lesser London. At least here you could see some of the sky bathed in the rust orange of plasma light between the roadways and the avenues joining the elevated sectors like the bridges over the fabled canals of Venice.

Her forward progress was halted somewhat by the throng of dingily attired Old London denizens in the thrall of street entertainment. A bear on a chain rolled a large red ball with its feet wearing a red Phrygian cap strapped under his chin. A tall African in a flowing ostrich cape led the furry apparition around in a circle as if he were holding a magnet in his extended hand. Lydia paused to observe, a bit distracted by the unusual show. Live animal acts had been banned aboveground for decades.

As she turned to resume her quest, she was confronted by two coppers. They had been keeping an eye on the crowd and had noticed her. She was out of place. They were young, one barely out of his teens, a tense meager set to his jaw that was trying to pass for determination. The older one with the light fuzz of lip hair spoke. “Your papers, mum.”

Lydia reached into her pouch bag and retrieved her Aerosud identification. She handed it to him, “It’s quite alright, constable, I have an appointment.”

The copper nodded, “Captain Cheese, is it?”

Lydia narrowed her eyes, and for the hundred thousandth time said, “It’s pronounced ‘Chase’.”

“Yes, mum. And I should be warning you about traveling the depths without an escort, mum. It is very dangerous.”

The younger one nodded vehemently. “This lot here would think nothing of kidnapping an upper to sell on the fem market!”

A commotion at the other side of the gathered throng drew their attention and they hastened away. An explosion sounded, a pistol or fireworks. The crowd scattered pushing past Lydia caught up in the fleeing mob. She felt a tug at her waist where her pouch was slung. She looked down to see a young girl slip effortlessly, eel-like, through the press of legs, arms and torsos. The bag pouch perceptibly lighter, Lydia understood immediately that she’d been picked. She forced herself through the crowd after the young girl.

The girl moved away quickly on what appeared to be a crippled leg. She wore a gray crochet bonnet over dusty brown hair, her shoulders draped in a shawl a shade lighter than her hair, and one arm hooked through a large wicker basket indicating that perhaps she was a flower seller.

lower londonThe pickpocket veered into the alley between two buildings with Lydia still in the tangle of panicked underdwellers. She kept her gaze fixed on the hobbling figure and once free of the mob ran swiftly to the entrance of the alleyway. The already inefficient bacso street lamps hardly penetrated the deep darkness of the cleft between buildings. Indignation overrode her sense of caution and she strode into the shadows. Slowly her eyes gathered the available light and sharpened to the dark. An oversplash of orange from the city above allowed her to discern edges and contours. The young purse snatch bobbed hurriedly toward the light of a parallel street at the other end.

Certain that she could easily overtake the thief, she hesitated for a beat. Someone had reached the girl first. Springing from the shadows a wiry figure grabbed for the girl’s shawl. The undersized shape stumbled. The much larger outline pounced on the fallen child. It occurred to Lydia that a thief was robbing another thief, one that seemed a little more formidable than a crippled girl. By then Lydia had caught up to them. She just wanted her wallet back. Instead she got the attention of the crippled girl’s assailant.

He was a narrow dagger of a man, drawn emaciated face, stubby hard shoulders extending boney brittle arms and long fingers. “Now we have ye,” he gargled a mirthless laugh.

Lydia had been taught well. As she flipped forward she extended a hand and placed it on the attacker’s rib cage, the momentum and force of her acrobatic maneuver was enough to give her thrust the power to unbalance the man. As she landed she swung her right leg and tapped the man’s chin with the toe of her boot at exactly the right spot, rendering him instantly unconscious. She made all these movements effortlessly as if simply slipping an arm through a sleeve or brushing back a fall of hair.

The young flower seller, now unburdened of her empty basket, scrambled around the corner of the building and out to the lighted thoroughfare. Lydia stepped over the fallen man after her. As she emerged into the light, the young thief was nowhere to be seen. Lydia hurried past a young couple sauntering ahead and then turned and hurried in the opposite direction, their startled gazes following her. She glanced across the street beyond the hack stand and the motionless equlones. The girl had disappeared.

Lydia strode to an iron railing on the other side of the alleyway. She leaned over the bar railing and stared down into the stairwell that led to a basement door. The door itself seemed to sway slightly as if it had just moments before swung closed. Lydia trusted her instincts and leapt down the stairwell. The door pushed open easily and once again she was in pitch black, this time with not enough ambient light to gather for sight. She turned back the piping on her coat sleeve and massaged the phosphene activator until the piping emitted a faint green glow like low viz string lights. It was a purely decorative feature of her garment, but it had enough phot, 33 lumens per centimeter if she remembered correctly what the salesperson who sold her the coat had claimed. She moved her arm in a slow arch across the front of her body to illuminate the bare edges of the light’s reach. A passageway opened up in front of her. Attenuated by the lack of the visible spectrum, she heard the whisper of shuffle steps ahead. She hurried and almost ran head on into the wall where the passageway turned sharply left. The rhythm of the foot falls changed and, after almost tripping, she was now following steps leading up and toward a light, a pale narrow splinter at the edge of a doorway. Without the slightest hesitation, she flung open the door with such force that it slapped against the inside wall of a small room lit by the soft glow of an oil lamp. The bear confronting her made her catch her breath.


Next Time: Slithereens

 

Better Than Dead—18

by Colin Deerwood

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The streets were wet with rain again. I hopped a crosstown bus. One of the passengers, an elderly woman, let me have her seat thinking I was blind. It was Sunday, and she was in her Sunday best as were a few other women and men in their best dresses and suits, coming from or going to services. I wasn’t going to argue. I was just being cautious. Rebecca took a window seat. We stood out like Raggedy Ann and Andy in a collection of porcelain dolls.

1937_Bus1At the end of the line the late afternoon sun passing behind a cloud defined a horizon of ship yard cranes and a thicket of masts. Fenced lots echoed with the barks of loud vigilant dogs and the brick warehouses, some seeming abandoned, maintained a grim silence. The rail yard was nearby, and a block of shabby businesses: a café and bakery, a corner grocer’s, a laundry, a hotel, a snooker parlor, and the address I was looking for.

I kept to the opposite side of the street in the shadows of the elms alongside a dilapidated board fence. From behind wood pallets stacked on the bed of an unhitched horse drawn freight wagon I cased my destination.

The sun had broken through the clouds glancing orange off the plate glass of the café and blindingly into the eyes of the man standing on the stoop of the address. A large Oldsmobile breezed up and he shaded his eyes, or maybe it was a salute, before climbing down to an arched double doorway to let the big car into the garage. Yamatski’s digs weren’t the sleazy walkup I’d supposed. That gave me pause. So did what Rebecca said next.

“Lack, look at the sign above the door!”

I’d seen it. I couldn’t make out what it said. It was Greek to me, like you might find on a fraternity house near the university uptown. CC with an upside down N or maybe a U. It coulda been a mook’s version of the YMCA for all I knew.

“Serbskiy Sotsial’nyy Klub,” she breathed. “They are connect to Black Hand. It is social club for fascist.”

I got it. It wasn’t going to be easy. The social club was like a brick fortress. There was no way I was going to go in the front door, not with that mug guarding it and whoever else was behind it.

The blinking neon sign in the plate glass window of the bakery said Café Latino. It suggested I needed another cup of coffee to think things over. And while I was at it. I ordered a half a dozen donuts.

“These donuts I have had before. Sweeter than a bagel. More like cake. I have seen them eaten in the movies. Donut must first be immersed in cup of coffee,” Rebecca demonstrated.

donut scene“No, no you’re doing it all wrong! Didn’t they teach you anything in that fancy Swiss boarding school of yours?” And I showed her how, breaking off a piece and dipping it in the coffee just enough to wet it but not get it soggy. “That’s the way it’s done, kid.”

She smiled and that always got me. I had no defenses against it and any doubts I had about her, about me, just disappeared. “I like when you call me ‘kid’, it makes me feel very American. And you are right, it is much better to dip than to soak. I am learning much from you.”

I didn’t want to think she could be putting me on. And I didn’t want to be the one leading her astray even though there was no doubt that’s what I was doing. I had to put all that aside and concentrate on my next move. It was like she could read my mind.

“What will we do now, Lack?”

Above the café was a fleabag known as the Lattimer Hotel. I’d followed a wife and her boyfriend there once years ago when I was just starting out in confidential investigations. There was a narrow two shoulders wide alley between the hotel building and the social club. The room number on the address of Yamatski’s card was 404. I guessed that made it the fourth floor and to the rear. The hotel building was a floor taller that the social club at five stories. I knew what I had to do. And I had to make sure that Becky was out of the way when I did it.

“I think we should get a room.” I said and tossed my bit of donut in my mouth.

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There were water spots on the wall were at one time rain had leaked in and no one had bothered to paint over them. The bed looked like it belonged in an Army hospital and maybe it had at one time. A recent occupant had been a cigar smoker. There was a cracked mirror above the basin sink but the facilities were down the ratty carpeted hallway to the rear. A grimy window with a torn shade overlooked the roof of the building next door. I stood at it pulling on a cigarette. Becky sneezed as she sat up on the bed and looked at her surroundings with an expression that said she would have rather been somewhere else. I was waiting for the last of the light to fade before I made my move.

The desk clerk had barely looked at the register where I had signed Mr. & Mrs. Samson Delilah as he passed me the key to the room. He looked like he had other things on his mind. A racing form was spread out on the counter. He pointed to the sign leading to the stairs that said No Credit, No Elevator, No Towels, No Ballroom,. It was indeed a small hotel. And they’d missed the obvious, No Class.

I led the way up the five flights and the high ceilinged room at the end of the hallway. She hadn’t objected, looking away from me like she was preoccupied by a kind of sadness. I figured the stress of the last couple of days was getting to her, she was just a kid, no matter what she said she did in the mountains where she came from. When the door closed she pulled me to her and kissed me, hard, the sadness magically evaporated, replaced by a hungry passion.

lackbec21I was tempted, pulling her up against me, her head tilted back at my response. My judgement when it comes to women hasn’t always been the best, and maybe I could even blame my lapses on my inability to figure them out even when I gave it a try. The hardest part of this jobs was resisting that urge. How many unfaithful wives of unfaithful husbands had offered themselves as partial payment or as a bonus for my peeping, and every time I gave in I was reminded soon after of what a mistake that had been. I couldn’t afford to be swayed.

“We need to talk,” I said. I sat her on the bed and explained my plan to cross the narrow gap between the two buildings and make my way to Yamatski’s room to grab anything of value in partial repayment for my attempted murder. She would wait in the room until I made it back.

There’s a word for the look she gave me and it’s usually reserved for idiots and fools. “No, Lack, stay with me. I am being frighten. Please.” She pulled me to the bed and had me lie next to her. “Tell me why you must do this. It is dangerous. We can wait.” She indicated the room. “Even here.”

She dropped her hand on my chest which predictably affected me below the belt. She was smiling in my face and gave me a look. Even in the long shadows of the room, I could see that it was one of those, mischievous and deadly serious. That’s all it took.

Afterwards she wanted to talk about how happy she was and what she was going to do once the recovered diamonds we’re sold. I admired her confidence in the future. She said she was undecided whether to go to Hollywood or find a big city like Chicago or New Orleans in which to begin her American life. Her eyes were alive either from previous excitement or at the possibility of fulfillment of her dreams.

I told her that Hollywood was just a big slum of broken dreams with better looking people and overnight millionaires who could just as easily find themselves penniless by the morning. She’d stand out like an easter egg in the dozens of hardboiled and overcooked. I told her that her best bet if she wanted to stay incognito was a college town, they had high turnover and nobody asked a lot of questions. If I was going to ground, that’s what I’d do. But I could see by the set of her mouth that the lime light appealed to her. I told her if she was dead set on it, once she got to Chicago on the Broadway Limited, the Super Chief would take her to all the way to Los Angeles and it was just a trolley ride to Hollywood.

“Stay with me, Lack, you could teach me many things.” She had wrapped her arms around mine as if to hold me.

I nodded, staring at the ceiling, and lit another smoke. I got to my feet. I had to do what I was going to do.

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The gap between buildings was too wide to jump across. The wind was starting to pick up again ahead of another storm and rattling the rickety rails of the fire escape. Across the gap was the roof to the social club, a sloping metal affair ending at a stubby brick parapet like you might find on a tower to a castle. I thought of braiding a couple of sheets together to make a rope and maybe swing across but I’m no Tarzan. It was maddening. I was so close. There was no way I could take a running jump and make it. And the prospect of dropping five stories did not appeal to me.

I went back to the room and Becky smiled like she had won an argument.

“You have change your mind?”

“Not on your life, sister.” I was staring at the bed. I overturned the lumpy mattress. Just as I thought. A wire grid and springs attached to the frame at the foot and head of the bed and held together with wing nuts. And maybe just long enough to bridge the gap. It was worth a try. The nuts had been painted over but I managed work the ones at the foot loose. The nuts at the header looked like they’d been welded on. I was working up a sweat while the kid watched me like I had gone crazy. Maybe I had. I was a mad man in a frenzy trying to prove something to myself with no idea what that might be. Frustrated I gave the frame a kick. The header gave a groan as only metal can and folded ever so slightly forward. I gave it another nudge with my foot and it gave way a little more. It was better than nothing.

Rebecca helped me cart the frame down the hallway to the fire escape door. Getting it through the door and out to the fire escape was a little more challenging. The header was the problem. It had bent only so far yet was still too wide to fit through the door. Having moved furniture with Grace’s brother, Ted, I knew enough about angles to clear the bed frame through the narrow door with a minimum of bangs and backups.

Out on the skeletal pipes of the fire escape, maneuvering in line with the gap wasn’t a walk in the park either. But I gotta give it to the kid, she was a real trooper. Lightening opened up a bright gap in the darkening sky and I could smell the approaching rain. Not that it mattered, I was sweating like a steamed up window.

I was right about the bed frame bridging the gap but wrong about the way it might be accomplished. Attaching the header to the railing as a hook the bedframe missed the opposite roof by half a foot and maybe a couple too high. Not perfect but I could chance using it as a ramp to lessen the jumping distance. I jammed the bedpost into a corner against the bricks but it was no guarantee that the bedframe wouldn’t come tumbling after me and I would have no way to get back. I had to take that chance.

Nestled in among the packing straw were five Thompson machine guns, gleaming with oil as if they’d just been foaled.

I hauled myself carefully up on to the rail and the took a cautious step forward. The kid was putting all her weight against the header frame and I took another step. I heard and felt the welded nuts groan and begin to give, the frame dropping a few inches. I needed just one more step and leapt. And it started to rain.

The bedframe rattled free of my weight and sent shocks to the fire escape which sounded like an explosion of small hammers. I looked up and could see Rebecca’s silhouette as the rain began to sheet down. The bedframe had held. I‘d landed in the narrow gutter space of the brick battlement and it was filling quickly with water shedding off the roof. There was a peaked window with a metal ladder leading up to it I had spotted earlier as possible access in to the club. Either an attic or a loft. There was no light behind it. I had to assume it was unoccupied. I made my way up to the ladder to take a few steps up and peer in. Sheltered by the overhang I could see into the shadowed gloom of the space beyond. Maybe an attic but not a living space.

I heard the noise and turned. The kid was standing on the bedframe about halfway across and the header had come loose from where I’d jammed it. It moved forward and down under her weight. I heard the bolts snap and the frame separated from the header out from under her feet.

She threw herself forward and managed to grab the edge of the abutment. I got to her and reached up under her arm and her other shoulder and dragged her into the gutter. The bed frame made a racket rattling down the shaft and bouncing off the bricks on the way down.

And then it was quiet. And raining. My escape route, never too realistic in the first place, was gone. Plus, now I had the kid to worry about.

“I am so sorry, Lack, but I did not want to be leave alone.”

I was too wet to be angry. “Let’s get out of the storm.” And led her up the ladder to the attic window.

I broke a pane with an elbow and reached around to undo the latched. The window stuck and then creaked as it swung open. I stuck my head in and sniffed the air. Dust, and mold, and something else, machinery? I pulled myself through the narrow opening. It was dark but not pitch. There were a set of attic windows on the opposite wall of the peaked ceiling letting in a dim light. Rebecca followed, still apologizing, but her way.

“I should not have followed. It was foolish. And now we are in a musty attic with boxes and old furniture. And if you do not believe in coincidence, another attic we have found ourselves.”

“Relax, and pipe down. There’s gotta be a way off this floor to the ones below. And that’s where I’m going! We just have to make sure the coast is clear and no one is making a fuss about the clatter.”

I’d already made out the shadow of a railing to a stairway leading down under the row of windows. I listened at the top and heard nothing. I could see that they led down to a doorway by the shadowy gleam of the knob. I stepped quietly awaiting the inevitable groan of wood. I put my ear to the door. Nothing, and gave the knob a turn. The hinges sighed as the door opened into the dim overhead lights of the hallway. Now I could hear what sounded like a burble of distant voices coming up the stairwell. Someone raised their voice and some one answered back louder, closer. The tread of feet thumped the risers heading up.

I hurried back up the steps to the attic pushing the kid ahead of me. She didn’t need any urging, she knew the drill. I ducked behind a large crate covered with a tarpaulin just as an overhead bulb lit up. I could hear the door open and the unhesitant footsteps advancing.

“Naw, nothing up here, quiet as a moose,” a rough voice called out. “Dey musbe hearing tings.” Another voice responded, and the first voice answered back, “Yer right, proly it’sa hotel next door. Some crazies live or dere.” There was an affirmative answer and the voice faintly in going down the stairs, “Let’s finish up the game. We can have time for one more hand before the meeting starts.”

And then they were gone. But they’d left the light on.

I came out from behind the crate. The wood smelled fresh. There were a few more near it with the turpentine tang of newly milled lumber. Black arrows were stenciled on the outside pointing up and a script I wasn’t familiar with. But the red skull and crossed bones spoke clear enough.

“Lack, look!” Becky had found a set of flags in the corner. One was red with a white circle and an X with its legs broken, a green, white, and red one with an axe and a bundle of sticks like you might see on a dime, and a white one with a big red circle in the middle. She held up another, on a black and white ground. It looked like a red checker board pasted onto a pot of fire. “Fascists! Like I have tell you!”

yugocrates1The lid of one of the crates had been pried up and I lifted it off. All of a sudden I felt like Ali Baba minus the forty thieves, and I didn’t have to say Open Sesame. Nestled in among the packing straw were five Thompson machine guns, gleaming with oil as if they’d just been foaled. This was my ticket out. Any one got in our way they’d get the business end of old Tommy.

There was only one problem. Not a one had a drum or magazine. Without the ammo all I had was an exceptionally well-made stick. There was a claw hammer on a work bench along with a bucket of nails. I went to work. It was no use. All the other new crates were the same,  Tommy guns, but not one bullet. And I was back to square one.


Next Time: A Change Of Plan

Contents Vol. 2 No. 5

Welcome to Volume Two, Number Five of Dime Pulp,
A Serial Pulp Fiction Magazine

In this instalment of On The Road To Las Cruces,  the legendary lawman recounts his efforts to bring those accused of the White Sands Murders to trial. A foreboding dogs him as he recounts the details. Someone is approaching from behind. And then the horseman appears. What is related in the novel account of the last day in the life of this legendary lawman is as much a retelling of some history as it is how such a retelling might come about.

Better Than Dead’s seventeenth installment finds private detective, Lackland Ask, “Lack” to his few friends, realizing that, after finding the body in Alice’s apartment, his luck isn’t getting any better and that it is affecting the safety of his friends. People might start calling him “Lucky” meaning exactly the opposite.  He’s desperate and like all desperate men, he makes bad choices. His plan for revenge is taking its consequences out on him

Dropping A Dime takes a look at a few overlooked or neglected heroes of pulp literature: historian and author Ron Goulart, hardboiled novelist James Crumley, and noir author James Sallis.

Dime Pulp Yearbook 21 contains the novels (The Last Resort and Better Than Dead) and the short fiction (Hard Boiled Myth and Gone Missing) of Volume One’s 12 issues and are available for perusal in their entirety. If you missed a few issues or lost the thread of a serial, clicking on the link at the beginning of this paragraph or on the menu bar above is a good way to catch up.

Dime Pulp continues its crime spree with the serialization of 2 full length novels,  Better Than DeadA Detective Story and On The Road To Las Cruces  as well as the cranky opinions of yours truly in another rare outing of Dropping A Dime. If you’ve made it this far, go ahead and follow the links below to reading entertainment with the serial contents of Volume Two, Number Five

 —Perry O’Dickle, chief scribe
and word accountant


Knapp-Felt 1930 1930s USA mens hats

“Lackland Ask is the name. ‘Lack’ to my friends, ‘Don’t’ to those who think they’re funny. You might have seen my portrait on the cover of Black Mask, the crime fiction magazine. This is my story. It starts with a blonde. This kind of story always starts with a blonde.” Thus begins the seemingly non-stop, endless narrative of Better Than Dead in which women are not the only trouble although most of it, told with the wit and street savvy of Runyon and Parker.

Better Than Dead—17


otrpic1fi2In late February of 1908, a one-time drover, buffalo hunter, saloon owner, hog farmer, peach grower, horse rancher, US Customs inspector, private investigator, county sheriff, and Deputy US Marshal set out from his adobe home on the mesa above Organ, New Mexico accompanied by a young man in a black buggy on the journey to Las Cruces. He would never arrive. This is the story of that journey, a novel account of the last day in the life of a legendary lawman.

On The Road To Last Cruces ~Seven~


dime dropFI

In this installment of the catchall column, Dropping A Dime, erstwhile editor and word wrangler Perry O’Dickle emerges from his ink stained den to pen a tribute to the legendary albeit little known Ron Goulart, pulp fiction and comic book historian, fiction flogger under numerous pen names who wrote futuristic novels that played off the unintended Schumpeterian and most often hilarious consequences of mechano-tech—he was the gleeful saboteur of a Popular Science future. As well, in this latest installment by the man in charge of these shenanigans, the crime fiction of the two Jims, Crumley and Sallis, are given a rapid rake of the side eye and peripheral consideration.

Ron Goulart and the Two Jims


Ron Goulart and the Two Jims

Ron Goulart

Ron Goulart is the spark that originally ignited the interest in pulp fiction and led to Dime Pulp. His The Hardboiled Dicks: An Anthology and Study of Pulp Detective Fiction (1967), Cheap Thrills, An Informal History of the Pulp Magazine (1972), and The Dime Detectives (1982) were a first serious and intriguing glimpse into the genre for these offices in the mid-80s. Prior to that, Goulart’s wacky sci-fi stories of tech gone wrong (notably robots) were diverting reading characterized by his penchant for goofball humor. Sadly, Ron Goulart passed away in January of 2022 at the age of 89.

Goulart was a prolific writer, historian, and proselytizer of pulp fiction and it’s emergent heir, the comic book. Writing under his own name as well as over a half dozen pen names, his novels and stories were an easy read, always with a little MAD comics edge, nothing too serious or violent, slapstick certainly. The grim shadow of “noir” did not often intrude in his easy going tales.

afterRon Goulart may be viewed as a lightweight by the toting crowd but the sheer volume of his engagement in the pulp/comic genre allows him to claim the turf he helped established. He was the author of over two dozen compendiums on comics and golden age pulp fiction illustrating the comic book’s emergence from the fantastic pulp genre and the Sunday Funnies. He wrote numerous futuristic novels that played off the unintended Schumpeterian and most often hilarious consequences of mechano-tech—he was the gleeful saboteur of a Popular Science future. Of the over two dozen nonseries novels, including Clockwork Pirates (1971), The Robot in the Closet (1981), and Now He Thinks He’s Dead (1992), most are of a whacky dysfunctional Murphey’s Law universe. His Barnum System series of novels is a planetary circus of its own with such titles as Spacehawk, Inc. (1974) and Galaxy Jane (1986) among numerous other linked and obtuse permutations his agile mind could hatch: Hail Hibbler (1980), After Things Fell Apart (1970). Goulart’s era was the twenty years span from the mid-70s to the early 90s in which he wrote under many pen names (Chad Calhoun, Zeke Masters, Jillian Kearny) as well as his own, collaborating on a range of projects in the pulp comic book genres which included penning Flash Gorden stories, Vampirella, and Avenger. In the 1970s, he wrote several novels based on Lee Falk’s The Phantom (“the ghost who walks”), a character incorporating  proto-super heroes, essentially Tarzan as Batman with a brace of 45’s, for Avon Books under the pseudonym “Frank Shawn”.

That he had a sense of humor about a dystopian future of robots and AI just made his stories all the more human and entertaining. He was not overshadowed by noir even though he worked on and wrote about the genre that engendered it. The cruel macho psychopathy of hard boiled prose was not his maître. Goulart kept it light, parodying the fantastic and sometimes brutal pulp genres of sci-fi and crime fiction. He was a hack in the good sense of the word, and epitomized an era’s liberality of imagination by the range of his output, well worth a wiki lookup. A playful satirist with a riotous sense of humor as evidenced in his Groucho Marx detective series, written after the turn of century, in presenting such pulp tropes as “Lord of the Jungle,” “Secret Agent,” “Master Detectives,” and “Private Eye” versions of Groucho with felicity and breezy Hollywood wit. Nor was he above writing for TV programs or penning bodice rippers under a woman’s name.

Goulart, as pulp historian, engaged in preserving a particular generic tone characteristic of an era of transition from pulp to comic book to graphic novel by being an active participant in that transition. His authoritative histories are gems of preservation and reference covering the parallel development of pulp publications and of illustrated storytelling in the form of comic strips and books. In his roles as pulp writer and scholarly aficionado, Goulart was a champion of the imagination and a real kick in the pants.

A timely Goulart retrospective is in order, a Goulart Omnibus (there is enough material for a couple collected volumes) at the very least! A festschrift, perhaps? The world needs to appreciate more of his sardonic wit. Pass the word.

The Two Jims

The two Jims, James Sallis and James Crumley (1939 –2008), could not be more different yet both represent a singular uniqueness in their stylistic genre, the crime novel. Crumley’s novels are full of gregarious bluster. Sallis’s novellas are thoughtful and subversive. Crumley’s actions and their aftermaths are full frontal view of violence’s consequences. For Sallis, what is depicted are the consequences of those actions as rueful denouements. A Crumley story usually contains enough material for at least three novels, wide ranging and galloping all over the place. They are a unique blend of the western and the private eye/finder of lost kids/kittens genre. Sallis says all he needs to say in the length of a novella. The language is precise and elliptical, Simenon-like, in evoking a mood.

James Crumley

James Crumley’s novels feature the characters of C.W. Sughrue, Viet vet drunk turned private investigator, and P.I. Milo Milodragovitch, each in their own adventures although they cross paths in the 1996 novel Bordersnakes. Crumley’s anti-heroes are both big men with big personalities and essentially mirror images of each other. Not that it matters. What carries Crumley’s novels is the sheer bravado of his storytelling. Anyone who’s ever worked as a bartender has probably come across a character like Crumley, loud, raucous, and a genial everyone’s my friend demeanor. Until the booze runs out.

tree duckBoth PIs, Sughrue and  Milodragovitch are hard drinkers, and hail from the cowboy states, Texas and Montana, the author’s home turf. They are the giants from the north exacting their version of justice in a particularly cockeyed world. A natural born storyteller, Crumley spins tales of mishaps and bad luck death defying scrapes that are often hilarious in their telling but also tragic in their own right as a history of bad choices. His characters inhabit a world of regret and wounded psyches. Often times the graphic violence seems gratuitous, yet no one would doubt the authenticity of the pictures Crumley paints. Crumley’s is a world of right and wrong with a lot of leeway gray viewed from the other side of the tracks where there is honor of a kind among outlaws and where some situations can only be resolved by violence. The plotting of the novels allows Crumley’s penchant for the shaggy dog tale and wide ranging hair of the dog that follows.

In The Long Good Kiss, a sick lovesick saga if there ever was one, Crumley defies the beat with squirrely maneuvers, digressions, soul searchingly bared and nakedly sentimental. Sughrue is the hero who must defeat the dragon, save (find) the maiden, and deal with his own demons. The common theme of these novels is of a quest for vengeance as a means to an uncertain redemption that requires guts, determination, foolish pride, and a firearm. What follows are the peripatetic permutations of Crumley’s telling. In a world ruled by violence, Crumley organizes his action like a cavalry charge or a commando operation, and often things go wrong (otherwise you wouldn’t have a story) and the hero suffers the consequences of hubris.

Most of Crumley’s novels begin in a bar (any bar) rendered accurately from long habituation. In The Long Good Kiss, Sughrue is drinking the “heart out of a spring afternoon,” and Bordersnakes starts out with Milo in a bar fight. PIs now seem only viable  in the dimlit underbelly of  prairie states (the American steppes) drinking dens where the world is still wild and desperate. And to do what they think they have to do and maybe sorta do it, they have to be Grizzly Adams cloned with a mean streets PI, a paladin in the Marlowe mode, mug like Richard Boone and shoulders like Cheyenne Bodey’s, and none of that 77 Sunset Strip cute beatnik stuff. The western had been an almost daily staple of evening TV viewing in the decades of the 60s and 70s—there was always someone stalking the dusty street ready to shoot a gun after dinner.

Crumley’s surrogates are thoughtful yet violent, men of instinctive action with not a little self-recrimination, flawed in effect, which always makes for the best PIs. His guys have another Chandleresque inflection beside the shining armor complex—they get sappy around dames, and it’s always their downfall, and always what inflicts the most pain. Crumley has no qualms in laying out all the details of betrayal and bitterness with the telling authenticity of the barroom orator. His rhetorical hooks to keep your attention, the left hook, the right hook, the uppercut, the fist to the throat, the kick in the groin so vividly depicted that they actually tickle the amygdala and tenuous (fight or flight) signals are expressed as subtle experience by their visceral hair raising realism . Crumley can do that.

His novels each have the scale of classical epics and myths in that the hero has to undergo various altruistic trials and battle the inhuman in himself and in others. Crumley never achieved mainstream success with his seven novels, The Last Good KissThe Mexican Tree Duck and The Right Madness featuring C.W. Sughrue, along with The Wrong CaseDancing Bear and The Final Country featuring Milo Milodragovitch, although The Mexican Tree Duck won him a Dashiell Hammett Award in 1994, and his work has been cited as influential to a generation of the top crime fiction authors including Connelly, Pelecanos, and Lehane.

There’s a bar in Missoula, Montana that Crumley used to frequent, hold forth, spin his stories, and gauge the effectiveness of his outrageous stories on the credulousness of his interlocutors. Reading their expressions was probably the greatest pleasure, typing up the stories was the real work. There’s an effigy of Crumley on a stool at one end of the bar where he perched and held his monologues. Better than any mantlepiece tribute. Crumley was, in Lord Buckley’s words, “God’s own drunk,”

James Sallis

James Sallis is the polar opposite of Crumley. Where Crumley might be said to use a machete to carve out his stories, Sallis uses a scalpel or, at the very least, an x-acto knife to shape his. Carefully crafted, the stories are quiet and deep. Their mood is dark, subdued, cerebral. In many respects they depict the psychological essence of noir. His characters are revealed in nuanced dialogue or by the mundane ambiguity of a scene. Throughout there is the subtle stylistic shadow and light reminiscent of German Expressionism and a dream-like melancholy framed in a meticulously considered language. Sallis’s novellas, no matter their content, are literary.

cricketLew Griffin, Sallis’s PI,  is portrayed realistically, not as a knight in shining armor, but as gritty, a survivor in spite of himself, haunted, flawed. Griffin is featured in six novellas, all titled after insects (companions of the loner or lonely man) beginning with The Long Legged Fly in 1992 and including Bluebottle in 1999, and Ghost Of A Flea in 2001.The action is often muted, viewed in the aftermath or off camera, the consequences telling the story that led to them. Lew Griffin is a black man, obviously self-educated and fond of quoting French authors, living in or on the edge of poverty in and around New Orleans. He finds people or saves them or kills them but always with lengthy soul searching consideration. He’s a tough guy because he is forced to be not because he wants to be. He has no illusions, thus the basis of his sustained noir ennui.. The tang of adrenaline is rare in Sallis’s crime fiction yet the depictions and progressions of the stories are always satisfying, literate contemplative ruminations on the human condition.

Sallis’s novel Drive (2005), about a stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver, was made into a successful movie starring Ryan Gosling. His John Turner series about an ex-cop, ex-con, ex-psychotherapist now deputy sheriff up Cripple Creek is his entry into the swamp noir genre  and presents no end of labyrinthian possibilities. Two of his recent novellas, Sara Jane (2019) and Others Of Our Kind (2013) are illustrations of his range as a storyteller and finesse in developing his characters, both of whom are women. Sallis moves out of the shadows in these novellas. In Sara Jane, a tale of great subtlety, the tone is the washed out yellows shading to amber of a prairie state. Others Of Our Kind is about Jenny Rowen who was abducted at age eight, and in this tale, the mood lighting is that of a not quite noir grayish blue.

Sara Jane is about a female deputy sheriff and the telling proceeds obliquely as a montage of memory revealed in elliptical snatches of reminiscence and circumstance. Understated, the story carries the reader along, meandering through seemingly unrelated threads that quietly become meaningful. Over the course of the narration, connections are made, peripheral epiphanies, illusive and open ended, flash like dry lightning. The secret of Sara Jane’s past will be revealed as the story closes but how the revelation unfolds is what makes the narrative a remarkable piece of writing. Then it’s over, and the reader is pleasantly surprised by a story carefully encapsulated by brevity and the resonance of impressions.

Others Of Our Kind offers an odd psychological study of a crime victim. How the story unfolds and how it progresses is not the expected enervated existential crisis. Absent is the moral outrage of a young girl abducted and kept in a box for two years. Absent also is an anguished recovery of identity and reconciliation with family. The expected trauma tropes give way to those of an unbound freedom, not victimhood. As an older successful professional, Jenny remains blithely unaffected by her ordeals, as a sex slave, as a mall rat. A crime of similar nature has occurred and through her professional contacts as a TV News editor she consults with the police detective who is investigating the case. Jenny’s introspection about her past provides the context over which the narrative develops. The tale is told with unusual candor in a series of set scenes that emphasize the mundane matter of fact passage of time. No high drama interposes in the precise delineation that resolves almost through sheer inertia. The story arc is vast and accounts for decades. In the epilogical resolution, the final scene is approached as if from a distance gradually closing in, and Jenny is much older now, retired to a sunshine state, at her writing desk, thoughtful, putting the finishing touches to her story, one that doesn’t accommodate the beats of formula crime fiction but works just as well. Sallis allows the story to find its own way at it’s own pace and he needs only 118 pages to do it.

Stylistically, Sallis’s stories work like films  and demonstrate the focused character-based concerns attributed to European cinema. The sensibilities are refined even if they do belong to country folk, the characterizations are centered albeit spare befitting a quotidian stroll through the psyche. His novellas are cinematic in their pacing, each like a finely wrought ninety minute story leaving you wanting more. They progress in brief narrative takes and cuts. an artful shuffle of suspenseful digressions undercutting any determining sense of purpose. Nor are they dialogue driven narratives. Rather they are etudes on framing circumstance.

The author of eighteen novels as well as the acclaimed biography Chester Himes, A Life (2001), James Sallis has been translated into German, French, and Spanish, earning acclaim in each of those languages with the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière, the Deutsche Krimi Preis, and the Spanish Brigada 21 as well as Bouchercon’s  Lifetime Achievement Award. He is also recipient of the Hammett Prize for excellence in literary crime fiction.

Besides his crime centered fiction, Sallis has published collections of short stories, poetry, criticism, scholarly studies on the role of the guitar in American Jazz, and translations from the Russian, French, and Spanish. Notably, his translation of Raymond Queneau’s Saint Glinglin (1993) leads to the assumption that Sallis is more than passing familiar with the unique approaches to the narrative by the influential French author and founder of Oulipo. He has admitted that he draws some of his esthetic for his stylistic approach from Michel Butor and Alain Robbe-Grillet, two proponents of the Nouveau Roman. Sallis captures that particular je ne sais quois élan, and seems perfectly comfortable with the novella form, one that he has undoubtedly mastered.

That’s my story and I’m sticking with it
Perry O’Dickle, for Dime Pulp

Better Than Dead—17

By Colin  Deerwood

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The country was going to the dogs and was being led there by the rats under the spell of the pied piper in a wheelchair. That’s what the guy sitting down the counter from me said. He wasn’t saying it to anyone in particular. What he was saying was that war was inevitable. I’d heard it all before. I didn’t care for the Marconi Messiahs or the broadcasts from the big tent evangelists predicting the storm that everybody knew was coming. If a guy wants to strut around on a stage pretending he’s god-almighty Charlie Chaplin that’s his problem and maybe he should see a head doctor, but it’s none of my beeswax. And now some squinty eyed guy by the name of Hero He Too across the wide Pacific was getting too big for his pants. If there was a war then I faced the prospect of being drafted and I wanted to avoid that at all costs. I could always take a hike to Canada but I was no dogsled jockey. South of the border, the islands, Cuba, Chile sounded exotic and full of senoritas, and all more appealing. Mister Loony, Herr Mustache, Hero He Too didn’t mean nothing to me. No matter the drumbeat, I wasn’t marching.

marconi messiahHe was going on about other things, Commies, getting loud, angry, until the cook waved a big metal spatula at him and told him to turn it down. I was looking at my hands trying to be invisible, hat pulled down over my ears, dark glasses no matter that they looked like beach wear. A problem had developed. Because of Sid’s frap between the eyes, the bruise around both of them had turned the color of a ripe eggplant. I didn’t think my nose was broken but it was still throbbing the next morning.

After the crime scene had closed down, after they led Linkov away in bracelets to the paddy wagon, his white hair in unruly spikes and his pointed beard and swirling moustache held up defiantly beneath blazing eyes, after watching Hogan in a huddle of high priced suits with Nekker and his G-men while the body from Alice’s studio was carted out to the coroner’s van, after the crowd had drifted off in clots of twos and threes and only a few of the neighbors were still giving Alice their sympathies, after that I stepped from the shadows from where I had been watching. Rebecca had managed to get closer to Alice and finally led her away, down to her studio. I followed close behind.

It wouldn’t have taken much to upset the clutter of Alice’s tiny space. The chalk outline on the floral carpet only partially contained the spread of a dark burgundy stain. The sergeant had given her the name of someone who could clean it up for her.

“Why am I struck by the total modernity of that composition?” she asked, a cigaretted hand flailing at the floor and giving that silly grin that precedes an immediate collapse.

I caught her before she hit the floor. Rebecca helped me stretch her out and then prop her feet up. I got a pillow from the bed for her head.

As I crossed the room taking in the disarray, I saw that Ted’s portrait was slightly askew, the gleam in his eyes gone. And I thought of Linkov. The peeper. I bet I could find a hole on the other side of that wall where he was accustomed to watching Alice’s sexy dance in front of the portrait of her deceased lover. If it hadn’t been for Linkov’s voyeurism no telling what harm might have come to Alice. He was the real hero.

She came to as Rebecca was patting her cheeks, eyes blinking and looking around and moaning, “I can’t stay here.”

Up in Lee’s loft, Alice sat on a small rickety chair holding the cup in both hands, sipping strong coffee, shivering still wrapped in the blanket, dragging the smoke out of a cigarette, and looking up at the skylight as the first of early morning brightened the flat pane. “What in the hell happened?”

I had to tell her about how a swim in the East River led to the possession of a valuable piece of information that could garner a small fortune in diamonds and how Rebecca had rescued me from the double crossing diamond dealers in the face of a gun battle between them and unknown assailants whose description resembled the men that attacked her in her studio, and helped me escape to her father’s Used Clothes shop where she revealed that in fact she had absconded with the diamonds and then the G-Men showed up because as it turns out her father is a bombmaker followed by the escape through the coal chute where the diamonds dropped from Rebecca’s pocket and later that night when the attempt to retrieve the diamonds from the coal bin failed I went to the cocktail lounge to collect the postal slip stolen from Della’s mailbox and ran into a gang from the funny paper who kidnapped me so Rebecca got away but only to come upon the body in her studio and that maybe her and Rebecca going to get the traveling bag from my office wasn’t such a good idea and hadn’t fooled anybody because they had been followed.

Alice looked at me blankly for a moment and then down at her cup. “What did you put in this?”

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The counterman came by and reheated my joe. He jerked his paper hatted head in the direction of the loudmouth. “”Don’t mind him. He shouldn’t read the newspaper. Gets him riled up.”

I nodded and took a sip from the cup. “Thanks. I don’t pay him no mind.”

He indicated my eyewear with his chin. “A little trouble with the missus. You’re showing purple around the edges of your fancy glasses.”

“Naw, ran into a light pole last night.”

“Howdya do that?”

“I was walking in the pitch dark and was afraid I might tumble over something and hurt myself so I went toward the streetlight, tripped over the curb, and felling into the pole. Caught me right between the eyes.”

“At least the light was better.”

I laughed for what it was worth. And he walked away and came back with a box from under the cash register. It contained a collection of lost eyewear. “Might find something better than what you borrowed from the little lady.”

That had been Alice’s suggestion earlier before Rebecca and I left the loft. “Take Lee’s sunglasses, she never wears them. You don’t want to walk around looking like a ghoul from the Saturday matinee. Somebody’ll notice you.”

blindman21As if no one would take a gander at my beat up mug wearing a pair that belonged on a Hollywood dame. I held them in my hand as I had then to compare. There wasn’t too much of a selection in the box, mostly a tangle of round wire frames and cracked lenses. At the bottom was a square set of black lenses, the kind you might see on a blind man. I tried them on and they fit with a certain weight that felt comfortable. I turned on the stool and looked at my reflection in the diner’s front window. I was unrecognizable. I slipped Lee’s pair into my jacket pocket and smiled even though it hurt. “Whadyeoweya?”

The counterman shook his head and waved away my offer. “All you need is a cane.”

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First Alice was hysterical. “What were you thinking!? They could have killed me!” I wanted to say “or worse” but I knew enough to keep my mouth shut. Then she got angry. “You bastard! How dare you!? You put my life in danger with your stupid stunt. I could have died!” Then she got quiet and that was the worst because those eyes shouted their disgust with me.

Rebecca had tried to explain that there was no way they could have suspected that they were being followed from my office. “Did they ask for Lack by name? How can you be sure that it was him they were looking for?” Alice said she didn’t remember but who else would “he” be but me. And that’s what I was thinking. That he was me and a gang of goggle wearing bandits wanted to kill that me. But who were they? I thought if I knew I could figure out how to avoid them.

I could tell by the look on Rebecca’s face when she settle on the stool next to mine that she hadn’t had any luck with the tailor shop building’s super. “There is police seal on door to my father’s shop and padlock on door to boiler room and coal bin. I do not know how we will be able to get to the diamonds.” Her shoulders hunched, ready to release a sob. I held her hand and she looked up at me.

“They are very dark your glasses, Lack. Can you see from them?”

I got the feeling she wanted to change the subject. “Yeah, I can see with them just fine. And my eyes don’t hurt as much in the bright light.”

She gave a weak smile and let out a sigh. “What will we do?”

I shrugged. I knew I had to get out of town before Kovic and his mugs caught up with me. I had an idea but didn’t let on to the kid. I would go down to the coal yard in the morning and find out who the supplier for that address was and then I’d look over the delivery schedule and get to the place before the coal was delivered and make like I was from the coal company and say I was there to inspect the chute because there was a problem last time like maybe the chute was blocked or something like that. But that would take time and I didn’t have the time or the expense account. I had to think of something.

I had started out with the idea of getting revenge for being stiffed by Kovic. It seemed like a simple enough plan. Walk up to him and fill his face full of holes. If I could get close that is. But in my state of mind, I didn’t care. I wasn’t going to get beat out of my fee or beat down trying to collect. And I almost got it, too. But I got a consolation prize instead, Yamatski’s Black Hand address book. Then I’d been rooked out of that by Solomon and his boys. I shoulda been smarter than that. They got the book and I got nothing. Unless you count the kid and the promise of pilfered diamonds.

I looked over at Rebecca and past her at the guy in the battered fedora and the equally beat up traveling case handing his business card to the counter man who inspected it with one eye closed and a squint of the other, and shrug. “We don’t need no novelties. We just sell food here,” he said.

dinerI had a card in my wallet. It was Yamatski’s card, the one that promised a reward if his address book got lost and found and gave a phone number and an address to return it to. My original idea of taking a look at his setup and maybe taking something that might be worth my trouble came back into play. It would be dangerous and I didn’t think I should drag Becky into the scheme which was essentially a burglary. But when I told her I had to be someplace, she gave me such a sorrowful look and pleaded, “What will I do while you are gone? Alice is still very angry with you, with me. I have no place to wait.”

I felt bad for the kid. Against my better judgement, which was starting to seem like a bad habit, I let her tag along. When you take a shine to someone, it comes with responsibility. Maybe that was why.


Next Time: The Philharmonic Radio Hour

On The Road To Las Cruces ~Seven~

by Pat Nolan

new badge hd 24Fourteen years had passed since the old buzzard died. Lately his memories of Ash had been frequent.

That he had considered writing another book would have been reason enough to conjure the raucous spirit of his old friend and drinking companion. The hours they had spent, sometimes into early morning, drinking, talking, and thigh slapping he remembered with a wry fondness. Ash had always done most of the talking. And all of the writing. He had watched his friend hunched over the roll top desk by the light of a coal lamp scratching steel nibs across sheaves of paper to inscribe the words they had spoken only moments before. Ash had claimed that if they kept up the way they were going, they would have to buy their ink by the pound. He had provided much of the enthusiasm and conviviality that was needed to see their book to its completion. He missed those bright patches in an other-wise grim and hard scrabble existence, and the friend who, bedraggled and weary after their all night marathons of drinking and telling lies, sometimes looked like a hedgehog who’d just smoked an exploding cigar.

“The grand jury met on April first and returned indictments on O’Lee, Leland, and Mcann. I figured that they would expect me to move on them as soon as a decision was reached. However, the joke was on them. I went to serve the warrants the following day. Falk had already sent word to O’Lee’s ranch so he knew of the grand jury’s action and I did not expect to find him there. O’Lee’s foreman told me that his boss and Leland had gone out to round up strays but I knew better. I had them on the run. My strategy was to pick them off one by one, leaving the leader until last. If I had all three in jail, I knew that O’Lee’s influence would prevail. I was anxious to get to Leland. O’Lee had that figured which is probably why he kept him close to his side. I had to settle for Jim Mcann.

“I knew right where to find him too. At McNeil’s boarding house. The morning after the indictments I had sent word over to Alice McNeil to serve Mcann a particularly hefty breakfast. I knew that Mcann presented with the choice of a hearty spread or ramming hooks for the hills would let his stomach make the decision. I was right. I served him a warrant to go along with the flapjacks and sausage. Then I told him to wipe the syrup off his beard and accompany me over to the lock up.

Falk was as surprised as I was when the judge remanded Mcann over to jail.

“I figured if I kept him isolated in the cooler long enough that he’d come around and start letting on to what he knew. I suppose that’s what Abe Falk figured too. He went about getting the preliminary hearing scheduled within the week. Part of his strategy was to get me to divulge the extent of the evidence I had against his clients.

“My main witness was a ranch hand by the name of Welkin. He had been at O’Lee’s ranch the night of Jennings’ disappearance and testified that all three men had ridden in on frothing horses late that night. He had heard them discussing in low voices something that was obviously of great concern to them. He had heard O’Lee say something to the effect that they weren’t going to be bothered on that account any longer. He also testified that O’Lee had burned a sheaf of papers, what could have been legal documents, in the fireplace.

falk“Well, Abe Falk didn’t get to be one of the most powerful men in the Southwest by being a pussycat. He tore into Welkin like an auger into rotten wood. By the time Falk was done with him, he was lucky if he knew who he was. It even looked to me that he had made him into a witness for the defense!

“It was pretty much all downhill from there. I had physical evidence, of course, but lacking the actual murdered bodies of Jennings and his son, it was not all that weighty. Falk dismissed most of the other testimony as hearsay or merely opinion. I had a woman who was riding the Alamogordo stage that same day. She claimed that she had seen the three men race by, hell bent for leather. Falk tried to discredit her by accusing her of having an affair with the stage driver. He even accused me of promising Welkin two thousand dollars of the reward money if his testimony led to their conviction. I had done no such thing, of course.

“Welkin had approached me for a loan to buy some property and I had told him that when and if the men were convicted I would then be in a position to make him a loan. At any rate, my case was not in the best of light right then. Falk was as surprised as I was when the judge remanded Mcann over to jail.

“He was a guest of the county for over a year and he never did talk. That’s because he was too busy eating. He had a tab set up at the boarding house that was paid by O’Lee through his lawyer. Can’t say that O’Lee didn’t know the price of silence. Mcann had loaded on near two hundred pounds by the time I had to let him go. I was worried that I was going to have to widen the doorway to the jail to get him out. Finally I had to roll him out of there like a beer barrel.”

new badge hd 25“I supposed you eventually apprehended O’Lee and Leland. They did stand trial, if I recollect.”

“They did that, but I never nabbed O’Lee or Leland.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’ve heard of moving heaven and earth. Well, Abe Falk came close to doing that for O’Lee. He maneuvered the Territorial legislature into apportioning a new county simply to remove those boys from my jurisdiction. The next thing I knew, the crime was no longer in Dona Anna County but in a new one that Falk had materialized out of thin air. Otero County, named after the newly appointed Governor.

“How could he do something like that?”

“Falk is a powerful man and he ain’t shy about flexing his political muscle. He has got his sights set on Washington. He controls much of what passes for politics here in the Southwest. He had George Kerry appointed the Sheriff of Otero County, and George, never one to overlook a chance at advancement, was in his pocket.

“O’Lee would have to face the charges against him eventually. Falk knew this, and he figured that if his boys surrendered to an authority friendly to his cause the interrogations, if any, would be less than thorough. Leland was his wild card and he wanted to keep him close to his vest. Finally, he arranged for O’Lee and Leland to surrender to his man. I was out of the picture by that time except for the fact that they were still under indictment.

 “So you never captured O’Lee and Leland?”

“That’s right, they evaded my clutches and never had to spend a day in jail. The new County did not even have a jailhouse yet so they spent the entire time awaiting their trial at the hotel in Alamogordo with pretty much free rein of the town. On equal terms, I would have eventually brought those boys in myself, but Falk plays with a marked deck. You’ve heard the expression that some men will rob you at the point of a gun and others at the point of a pen. Well, Falk is one of those who wields a lethal pen. He was double dealing the whole time.”  That memory called for another nip. “I did put a hell of a scare into those boys at one point, though.”

“How so?”

John_Reynolds_Hughes“I knew that an arrangement had been made for O’Lee and Leland to surrender themselves to George Kerry in Las Cruces but no date had been determined. I was up in Santa Fe collecting a prisoner for extradition to Texas when an acquaintance who worked in the Governor’s office informed me that O’Lee and Leland would be boarding the train somewhere along the line between Santa Fe and Las Cruces in the custody of Kerry’s deputy. As luck would have it that was the very train I would be taking to El Paso with my prisoner. Accompanying me was John Hume, a Texas Ranger.

“If you must know, I was sore at having been outfoxed by Falk, and I relished this opportunity to confront O’Lee. I considered goading him and making him do something stupid that would play into my hands. I did not want him to think that he could evade me so easily. On the other hand, that O’Lee and Leland would stand trial was good enough for me. I had the evidence to convict them, and they would hang just as dead whether they were in Kerry’s custody or mine. I was not, however, going to let them think that their subterfuge had succeeded. I was willing to cash in on any foolish move they might make.

“At every stop the train made, I was on the platform surveying the boarding passengers. We were just about to pull out of Sorroco when I happened to glance at the window of the smoking car. There was a bearded fellow seated there that I had not remembered boarding at the previous stops. That made me suspicious so once the train got rolling I asked the conductor if he remembered any one boarding from the backside of the tracks. He confirmed that three men had jumped on board as we were leaving the stop just before Sorroco and that they had taken seats in the smoking car. Right then and there I would have bet everything I owned that they were the boys I was after.

“I had a decision to make. I was tempted to arrest them myself but since the crime was no longer in my jurisdiction, I had no authority to do so especially if they were in the custody of a duly appointed peace officer. I realized that the most I could do was give those boys a bad case of the willies.

sf train2“I explained my plan to Captain Hume. We chained our prisoner to his seat and then we walked back to the smoking car. Those boys must have seen us coming as it was mighty quiet when we stepped into that car. Right away, I recognized the men I had been chasing. Both had full beards. Leland wore dark glasses and pretended to be asleep. The deputy had his face buried in some French blue book. The man I wanted, O’Lee, was hiding under a railroad cap. We had worked it out beforehand that Hume would cover Leland and the deputy, and I would have a go at O’Lee. I went over to where O’Lee was sitting, stiff as a raw hide in a snowdrift. I planted my foot on the armrest of the seat next to his and made like I was looking for some reading material in the newspapers and magazines stacked there. Then I leaned against the back of his seat and looked out the window, casual-like, as if I was enjoying the scenery. I was close enough to see the sweat rolling down the back of his neck. Those boys didn’t know whether to shit or go blind.” The old man chuckled, replacing the cork. “I’d say that’s a memory I’ll always savor.”

“What’d O’Lee do?

“Nothing. I figure I had him shaking in his boots. If he or Leland had been foolish enough to start gunplay, they would have got the worst of it. As it was, I got the satisfaction of seeing them sweat. After a time, I sauntered back to my seat in the passenger car. Those boys probably had to go off somewheres and change their britches.”

new badge hd 26“Falk had the venue of the trial changed because he claimed that his clients would not receive a fair trial in either Dona Ana County or Ortega Country.

That was a crock served on a silver platter. They would have got what they deserved. Justice, nothing more, nothing less. Those boys had done the deed, that was a fact. Falk figured if he could have the proceedings moved out of the vicinity of the crime, he would be able to control the way the events played in the newspapers. They moved the trial to Hillsboro, a mining camp up in the Black Range. You couldn’t find a more secluded backwater in the whole territory.”

The old man had noticed the rider a while back. They were in the flat stretch about half a dozen miles outside of Las Cruces. He was almost a mile behind and from his pace would soon catch up with them.

“Hell, the case was tried in the newspapers before it even went to the jury! Falk was granting interviews to anyone who could spell his name. He would say anything to put his clients in a good light. Once he even compared O’Lee to Robin Hood and painted me as the wicked sheriff of Nottingham. They made out like O’Lee was some kind of cultivated gent, that he spoke Greek and Latin when he was nothing but a West Texas brush popper. The prosecutor was a hack sent down by the Republicans in Santa Fe to make sure that the Democrats did not win. It had nothing to do with bringing the men who murdered Colonel Jennings and his kid to justice.”

The old man noticed that Adams would occasionally pull back on the reins and that the horse was responding by slowing its pace. He had a good idea of who was following them.

hillsboro“You would have thought it was fiesta week in Hillsboro. Why, Western Union even ran a wire up there just for the trial! They had reporters come from as far away as New York and London. Folks were arriving by the wagonload everyday just to get a seat in the courtroom as if it was some kind of opera or musical concert. The hotel was packed four to a room in no time, mostly with O’Lee partisans. Tent camps were set up all over the hillside on the outskirts of town. The truth is, the jury had to sleep in the hayloft at Hank’s livery!

“Falk and his crowd held forth over at the Silver Maiden Saloon, and the Santa Fe gang used O’Shea’s Miner’s Club and Billiard Emporium as their headquarters. You could sit in Cobb’s barbershop and watch the gaggle of newspaper boys go from one camp to the other to get the opposing versions of how the day’s testimony had gone. The later it got, the harder it got for those shit scribblers to find their way across the street to the opposite camp for that last glass of convincing. Falk you might say had the deepest pockets and thus proved his righteousness by the number of besotted writers that were swept up at the Silver Maiden the following morning.

“I wouldn’t be saying much if I said that the prosecutor was incompetent. Falk demolished just about every witness who took the stand. And with nary an objection from the Territory’s side. I guess they reckoned that given enough rope Falk would hang himself, but they hadn’t figured that he was as clever as Houdini at getting out of a close place.

“He cross-examined me for a whole three days. He did not cow me, though. I gave it to him straight from the chest. I told him what I thought of his back room manipulating of the courts, how it was his kind that was responsible for the corruption in the Territory, that politics was determining the course of justice. And he could not demolish my testimony. My evidence was irrefutable, and he knew it. I would not be shaken. As much as he tried.

  “Falk sunk as low as bringing O’Lee mother to the stand to testify to her son’s character and innocence. Her weeping into her hanky that way, she probably did more to acquit those boys than any of Falk’s underhanded moves. Moreover, it did not help that every testimony in O’Lee’s favor was greeted with cheers and applause from the remuda of Texas jackasses Falk had packed the courtroom with. Or that the Dog Canyon pistoleros had made it plain and clear what would happen to the jury if the verdict was returned guilty.

“The closing arguments lasted all of one day. Falk took the time to denounce each and every witness and piece of evidence against O’Lee, claiming that the accusations were nothing but politics by the Republicans. He name-called the entire Rio Grande Valley establishment, said they were slime, a bunch of broken down hacks, and liars. Claimed that there wasn’t enough evidence to hang a yellow dog, let alone the defendants. It was late evening before he was done with his marathon summation. After the prosecutor presented his rebuttal, Falk’s case did not look as strong as it might have. However, Falk had one last card to play. By then it was close to midnight and the jury was just plain tuckered, but Falk insisted that they return their verdict before they bedded down for the night in their fashionable straw palace. That jury certainly knew what was important to them. They took a whole of eight minutes to declare O’Lee and his assassins not guilty.”

The rider was close enough behind that he could no longer be ignored. Adams had glanced over his shoulder in nervous anticipation. The old man smiled as he twisted the cork out of the bottle with his teeth. He had been right.

“If Gil Leland is ready to talk like I heard then I’d say O’Lee should start worrying about his chances of gaining a seat in Santa Fe. Leland’s sister even admitted in the Las Cruces paper not long ago that soon after the disappearance of Jennings, she went to slop the hogs and found them rooting among young Rudy’s remains near the edge of the pen. This was at the Dog Canyon ranch. I’ve heard tell that for the price of a bottle of whiskey that Leland will spill his guts about the whole affair. He’s as much as admitted to being the one who killed the kid.”


Next Time: The End Of The Road

Contents Vol. 2 No. 4

Welcome to Volume Two, Number Four of Dime Pulp,
A Serial Pulp Fiction Magazine

In this instalment of On The Road To Las Cruces, the name of the legendary lawman is revealed. Pat Nolan said of this novel account of the last days of the man’s life, “I had the manuscript sitting around for nearly thirty years and one day I went in with a machete and cleared out all the undergrowth until it was as spare and taciturn as the man himself. It shortened the word count considerably but it made for a better story.” What is related on the road to Las Cruces is as much a retelling of some history as it is how such a retelling might come about.

On the conclusion to All Tore Up, Helene Baron-Murdock says of her latest Hard Boiled Myth episode, “When I first created Jim Donovan of the Weston County Sheriff’s Violent Crime Unit, I just thought to use him as a mouthpiece to revisit the mayhem and murder found in Greek Myths. Yet the character in addressing how these myths can be retold cannot be conscious of the current investigation’s architypes—they are only transparent to the informed reader—and allows him to take on a life of his own. The odd development is that most of the other police officials Donovan interacts with have, like his, the names of pop music celebrities. It’s just a coincidence.” Or is it?

Better Than Dead’s author, Colin Deerwood remarked that the world of the private detective of his story, Lackland Ask, is made up entirely of language. “The language of the quotidian exchange, the patter and chatter of someone who gets ahead on guile and a few luck breaks, and which is why some episodes resemble a large shaggy dog following the scent of the imagination to wherever it may lead. The peregrinations of our everyhero are what gives pleasures to the telling of situations and predicaments only one step away from the next misstep.” But then he always says things like that.

Dime Pulp Yearbook 21 contains the novels (The Last Resort and Better Than Dead) and the short fiction (Hard Boiled Myth and Gone Missing) of Volume One’s 12 issues and are available for perusal in their entirety. If you missed a few issues or lost the thread of a serial, clicking on the link at the beginning of this paragraph or on the menu bar above is a good way to catch up.

Dime Pulp continues its crime spree with the serialization of 2 full length novels,  Better Than DeadA Detective Story and On The Road To Las Cruces  as well as the conclusion of latest installment of Hard Boiled Myth. If you’ve made it this far, go ahead and follow the links below to reading entertainment with the serial contents of Volume Two, Number Four

 —Perry O’Dickle, chief scribe
and word accountant


Ace-of-Spadesfi“Lackland Ask is the name. ‘Lack’ to my friends, ‘Don’t’ to those who think they’re funny. You might have seen my portrait on the cover of Black Mask, the crime fiction magazine. This is my story. It starts with a blonde. This kind of story always starts with a blonde.” Thus begins the seemingly non-stop, endless narrative of Better Than Dead in which women are not the only trouble although most of it, told with the wit and street savvy of Runyon and Parker.

Better Than Dead—16


Ace-of-hearts-1f1In late February of 1908, a one-time drover, buffalo hunter, saloon owner, hog farmer, peach grower, horse rancher, US Customs inspector, private investigator, county sheriff, and Deputy US Marshal set out from his adobe home on the mesa above Organ, New Mexico accompanied by a young man in a black buggy on the journey to Las Cruces. He would never arrive. This is the story of that journey, a novel account of the last day in the life of a legendary lawman.

On The Road To Last Cruces ~Six~


Ace of Diamonds

Greek myth is rife with murder, mutilation, cannibalism, mayhem, and the ever popular incest.  Weston County Sheriff’s Detective Jim Donovan of the Violent Crimes Unit wouldn’t know a Greek myth from a Greek salad, but if he did he would find some troubling similarities to the cases he’s investigating.  Revisited as crime fiction are the strange death of Hippolytus, the agonizing death of Heracles, the slaughter of Penelope’s suitors, the Fall of Icarus,  the sparagamos of Orpheus, and the cursed lineage of Pelops.  Helene Baron-Murdock’s Hard Boiled Myth taps into the rich vein of classical literature to frame these ancient tales in a modern context.

All Tore Up—III