Monday, February 28, 2011

Scarry Night: Skyler Hobbs and the Fate Worse than Scars


“The police won’t help me, Mr. Hobbs,” Carole Levinson said. “You are my last hope.”

My friend Skyler Hobbs studied the reactions of the three men grouped behind Carole’s chair like courtiers. Her father, a stocky man gripping a shotgun, scowled and gritted his teeth. Brother Dougie, a pre-teen version of his father, wore an insolent smirk. Boyfriend Kevin, a gangly guy with a wispy mustache, kept his adoring eyes on Carole.

Carol herself hooked a fake red fingernail in the corner of mouth and looked forlorn. The effect was quite fetching, but entirely lost on Hobbs.

I said, “Have any of you gents seen this scar-faced guy, or does he only appear to Carole?”

Boyfriend Kevin bristled. “Are you implying she’s making this up?”

“I am quite sure,” Hobbs said, “that my friend the doctor meant no such thing.”

Brother Dougie snorted. “This dude’s a doctor?”

“Jason Wilder,” I said, “Computer Doctor,” and handed everyone present a business card. “Twenty percent off your first repair job.”

“Wait! Hobbs and Wilder?” Dougie began to cackle. “I read about these bozos in Discount Noir. The guy with the pointy nose thinks he’s the second coming of Sherlock Holmes.”

Hobbs pretended not to hear this, but the tips of his ears turned red. He said, “Miss Levinson, you say this scar-faced fellow normally peers into your living room window. Has he also appeared at others?”

“I saw him once from the dining room,” Carole said, “and once from the kitchen.”

“Just so,” Hobbs said. “If you gentlemen will be seated, I have a few questions. Then I ask that you return to you own homes while the doctor and I attempt to catch the culprit in the act.”

#

Two hours later Hobbs and I crouched in the bushes next to Carole’s apartment building.

We’d learned several things of dubious value. Carole’s father, for instance, had been opposed to her taking this apartment, and continually nagged her to return home. One reason she refused was that brother Dougie loved to torment her with practical jokes. The only hint of a suspect came from boyfriend Kevin, who said a registered sex offender lived nearby.
   
“So,” I whispered, “you really think it’ll be this easy? We just wait for Peeping Scarface to show up and grab him?”

Hobbs turned to face me, and the moonlight outlined a smile I knew all too well—a smile  that said, You’re a fine fellow, Watson, but thick as a brick.

“Wilder,” I said, as if he’d spoken aloud. I would have said more, but The Outer Limits theme burst from my cell phone, meaning I had an unknown caller.

A voice asked for Hobbs. I handed him the phone.

After a moment he said, “I understand, Detective. We shall be there directly.”

“What?” I said.

Hobbs stepped out of the shadows. “The police need my assistance on another case,” he said, not bothering to whisper. “I fear Miss Levinson’s prowler will have to wait.”

I balked. “You go. I’ll stay on watch.”

“No,” Hobbs said firmly. “I cannot do without my Watson.”

“Wilder,” I said with a sigh. But I went.

#

Five minutes later, I was more at sea than ever. We’d sped off in my PT Cruiser, covering only two blocks before  Hobbs directed me to turn and circle back to Carole’s building.

“What about the cops?”

“A necessary subterfuge,” he said, but would say no more.

Parking nearby, we were soon back on station, now at the opposite end of the yard.

Almost at once, a dark form detached itself from the shadows and glided to Carole’s living room window. After a moment it moved on to the dining room, and finally the kitchen.

The light from the kitchen window illuminated the side of the prowler’s face, and even at twenty feet I recoiled at the livid, angry scars.

“Now,” Hobbs whispered, and spurted silently toward our quarry. I scrambled after.

Warned by some sound, the man spun away. But Hobbs’ headlong dive caught him by the knees, and I dipped my shoulder, smashing into him like a linebacker. The guy flopped over backwards, squealing like a stuck pig.

Almost instantly, Carole was there. “You got him! Who is he?”

While I sat on the guy’s chest, pinning him, Hobbs rose and dusted himself off.

“Can you not guess?”

I studied the scarred face. The eyes rolled wildly about, but the rest of the features were still.

“It's a Halloween mask,” I said. “But who’s wearing it?”

“The only one of our suspects tall enough to peer into the kitchen window,” Hobbs said. He bent and ripped the mask free.

“Oh, my god!” Carole dropped to her knees next to the prowler. “Why?”

“You’re not safe here alone,” boyfriend Kevin said with a sob. “I wanted you to move in with me.”

Carole’s face softened. She stroked his cheek. “You did that for me? You love me that much?”

Hobbs wrinkled his nose. I didn’t blame him. I rolled off Kevin’s chest.

“I’m truly touched,” Carole told Kevin, “but you are one sick son of a bitch!” And her claws came out, raking him first across one cheek, then back across the other, while his pitiful howls pierced the night.

#

When we visited the hospital, Kevin’s face was swathed in bandages. Except for the scars, which he would bear for the rest of his days, he was expected to make a full recovery. Both he and Carole had decided not to press charges.

Still, the guy was down in the dumps.

“Look on the bright side,” I said. “Next time you want to scare somebody, you won’t need a mask.”

Kevin almost smiled. “I really don’t mind the scars. They’re nothing compared to a broken heart.”

Hobbs was aghast. “Despite this experience, you still profess love for that woman?”

“We do not choose who to love, Mr. Hobbs. Love chooses us, and we are mere slaves to its power.”

Hobbs' lips tightened. His skin paled. He turned and strode briskly from the room. I ran to catch up.

“Doctor,” he said, “do have your trusty revolver handy?”

“You know damn well,” I said, “that I do not own a gun.”

“Then you had best acquire one. If I ever fall prey to this disease called love, I demand that you shoot me at once!”

###

© 2011 by Evan Lewis


"Skyler Hobbs and the Fate Worse than Scars" is my answer to Patti Abbott's Scarry Night Flash Fiction Challenge, in which we were to write a story containing the line I really don't mind the scars.

For links to the other stories, proceed to pattinase!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Forgotten Books: THE BUFFALO BOX by Frank Gruber


Here’s another adventure of my favorite Gruber character, Simon Lash.

The Buffalo Box (1942) is the second of three novels in the series. I reviewed the first, Simon Lash - Private Detective, last year.

One reason I prefer Lash to Gruber heroes like Johnny Fletcher and The Human Encyclopedia is that like me, Lash is a book collector - and like Gruber, he’s a student of Western history. I have the feeling Gruber identified more with Lash than with his other series characters.

The first Simon Lash book, you may recall, made reference to many works of Old West Americana, and ended with Lash visiting a outlaw hideout run by the son of Billy the Kid.

In The Buffalo Box, Simon Lash concentrates on just one old book, and one just one famous incident. But it’s one of enduring interest - the Donner Party Expedition.

The story kicks off when a bewhiskered old gent in prospector’s garb rides up to Lash’s door and claims to be Lansford Hastings, author of The Emigrant’s Route to Oregon and California, the book that guided the Donner Party to their doom. Trouble is, that book was published in 1845, and the author died in 1870.

But the guy shows Lash a box adorned with carved buffaloes - a box we later learn was carved by a wealthy member of the Donner Party. From that point on, descendants of Donner Party folks come popping out of the woodwork, and they all seem to be after a treasure buried back at the pass. Like all of Gruber’s mysteries, this one’s peopled with quirky characters and packed with plot twists, but has the added attraction of being peppered with Donner trivia.

And you’ll be pleased to know: No people are eaten in the course of the story.

Visit pattinase for the line-up of all of this week’s Forgotten Books!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Phantom: The Complete Newspaper Dailies, Volume One


I've been waiting a LONG time to read The Phantom from the beginning. Well, the wait is finally over. Hermes Press has published the first two volumes of the complete daily strips, and the third is due out next month.

Having just finished the first volume, I'm pleased to report I am not disappointed. The strip is off to a great start, and it's only going to get better.

Here's some stuff I didn't know:

1) The Phantom was just possibly the first long-underwear hero. While clearly influenced by guys like The Shadow and The Spider (and before them, The Gray Seal), The Ghost Who Walks made the scene more than two years before Superman, and set the fashion standard for comic book heroes right down to the present. And . . .

2) When the strip began, Lee Falk intended The Phantom to be a wealthy playboy who donned the gray duds to fight evildoers. We meet this playboy persona in the beginning of the strip, and the the dual-identity thing is never actually spelled out, the clues are pretty obvious. But before the secret identity became official, Falk got a better idea - to give the character a 400-year history, with 20 generations of Phantoms behind him.

In case you're not hep to the mythos, the original Phantom was the son of Captain Standish, a merchant captain who was captured and killed by the Singh Pirates in 1525. The son swore on his father’s skull to wipe out the Singh Brotherhood, and committed his male descendants to follow in his footsteps, creating the illusion that The Ghost Who Walks was immortal. Pretty cool stuff, then and now.

Prior to The Phantom's debut in 1936, Lee Falk had created Mandrake the Magician, who was also a pretty cool dude. The assistant to Mandrake artist Phil Davis was a guy named Ray Moore, whom Falk chose to illustrate his new strip. Moore stuck with The Phantom until 1942, when he was drafted.

The only bad news here - and I consider this truly scandalous - is that Volume One, published just five months ago, appears to be already out of print. Let's hope that travesty is corrected soon. 

Here are some samples from Volume One: 1936-1937 . . .

Feb 21, 1936. First appearance of The Phantom.

First frontal view.

Note the skull belt and striped shorts. 

He's quick on the draw.

The Phantom relaxing at home.

Nobody, but nobody, messes with Devil.

Babes dig him.

Smiley's last nice day.

The Ghost still Walks.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Overlooked Audio: The Tower of the Elephant by Robert E. Howard (and Friends)


Back in the Dark Ages we had these clunky round slabs of black vinyl called records or LPs. This album, from Moondance Productions, was one of them.

Sometime around 1974 a guy named Alan B. Goldstein had a dream. He wanted create a radio series devoted to the adventures of Conan the Cimmerian. The pilot program was a 17-minute dramatization of the Howard story "The Frost Giant's Daughter," adapted by Goldstein himself.

The next step was to produce a second program, so the two could be issued on limited edition LP, in hopes of drumming up interest for the radio series. For the second show, Marvel Comics' REH substitute, Roy Thomas, was brought on board to write the script.

For whatever reason, the show never got off the ground. But it's pretty cool to have this album. I'm posting "The Tower of the Elephant" for a limited time only. ("The Frost Giant's Daughter" is good, too, but "Tower" is ten minutes longer and more interesting.) You can either listen to it here or download it for later. I'll try to keep it available for at least a week.

Conan is played by Paul Falzone, with narration by Owen McGee. Paul Donlon plays Yag Kosha and the Kothian. Carl Penke plays Taurus and Yara. 

The Tower of the Elephant - listen now:

The Tower of the Elephant - download for later:
TOWER OF THE ELEPHANT - DOWNLOAD

For more of this week's Overlooked Films, Etc., visit Todd Mason's Sweet Freedom!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

DISCOUNT NOIR: Discounted again!

Because publisher Untreed Reads is celebrating its first anniversary, all titles are currently 25% off - but only through the end of February.

This means the already bargain-priced Discount Noir can now be possessed for a mere $4.49. Despite my status as one the ten most tight-fisted guys on the planet, if I didn't already have one I'd be tempted to buy it myself.

To order, click HERE. Or HERE. Or HERE. Or even HERE, and tell them Skyler Hobbs sent you.

Here's the amazing line-up:
What Was Heavy? by Sophie Littlefield
One in the Big Box by Kieran Shea
The Black Friday of Daniel Maddox by Chad Eagleton
The Holiday Spirit by Ed Gorman
Acceptance by Cormac Brown
Aubergine by Fleur Bradley
Concrete Jungle by Alan Griffiths
Loss by Patricia Abbott
Tenderloin by Laura Benedict
Freak Shift by Garnett Elliott
Inside Man by Eric Beetner
The Bayou Beast: A Requiem by Jack Bates
Their Fancies Lightly Turned . . . by Bill Crider
Thirty-One Hundred by Loren Eaton
WWGD? by John DuMond
Part-Time by John McFetridge
Cold Feet by Toni McGee Causey
A Fish Called Lazarus by Jeff Vande Zande
House Names by James Reasoner
A New Game by Kyle Minor
Getting Messed Up by Randy Rohn
Discount Primrose by Todd Mason
Super People of Megamart by Bryon Quertermous
Heinie Man by Sandra Scoppettone
In and Out by Stephen D. Rogers
Code Adam by Steve Weddle
Skyler Hobbs and the Rollback Bandit by Evan Lewis
Black Friday by Daniel B. O’Shea
The Gimmick by Sandra Seamans
The Hideous Lime Green Truth by Albert Tucher
Mondays and Thursdays by Donna Moore
Friday Night and the Tijuana Wolfman by John Weagly
Pink Tidal Wave by Keith Rawson
Need a Hand? by Gerald So
Hope You’re Having Yourself an Especially Grand Time by Dave Zeltserman
Megamartyres by Dorte Hummelshoj Jakobsen
The Tin Foil Heist by Jay Stringer
Crack House by Anne Fraiser
Secret Identity by Kathleen A. Ryan
A Place Marked Malmart by Eric Peterson
For One Night Only by Chris Grabenstein
Have You Seen Me? by J.T. Ellison

Friday, February 18, 2011

Forgotten Books: Mike Hammer - The Comic Strip, Volume 2


When I reviewed Volume 1 of this set last year (click HERE), I whined about not having Volume 2. That problem has since been remedied. The two volumes comprise the complete daily and Sunday run of the strip, with the exception of one Sunday page that could not be located when this volume went to press in 1985.


This volume contains two daily sequences and two Sunday stories. One of the Sunday continuities, "Comes Murder!" was scripted entirely by Mickey Spillane. The other Sunday, "Dark City," was a collaborative effort by Spillane and artist Ed Robbins, as were the two daily stories. All four are vintage Hammer.


In "Another Lonely Night," Mike's police detective pal Pat Chambers uses him as bait to nail a mob. "Adam and Kane" is a tale of a very dysfunctional family, with a villain so deadly he scares even Mike. "Comes Murder" introduces Mike to one of deadliest dames of his career. And "Dark City" is a tale so tough it caused newspapers to drop the strip, bringing From the Files of Mike Hammer to a screeching halt.


According to the fine intro by Max Allan Collins, containing insights gleaned from conversations with Ed Robbins, what really killed the strip was a single panel - the one shown above - depicting a bad guy about to apply a burning cigarette to the sole of a bound woman's foot. Back in 1953, the era of Fredric Wertham, this was considered too disturbing for the delicate sensibilities of newspaper readers.


Beyond enjoying the stories, I'm intrigued by the mystery of the missing Sunday page, the one from May 17, 1953 . Editors Max Allan Collins and Cat Yronwode searched high and low for it without success. Max notes that not even comic strip guru Bill Blackbeard had a copy! So what I want to know is, has that page ever surfaced? It's been 25 years, and this book put the world on alert that Max was looking. How about it, Max? Has it ever turned up?

This week, Forgotten Books welcomes the return of head honcho Patti Abbott. For all the links, proceed immediately to pattinase.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Overlooked Films: Red Hot Riding Hood (1943)

Here's one of my favorite cartoons by my favorite director, Mr. Tex Avery. Red Hot Riding Hood, released in 1943, was sort of a spin-off of the Droopy cartoon Dumb-Hounded, where the Wolf from this film first appeared. But this one introduces "Red," who goes on to appear in several more cartoons.

Two of Red's follow-up appearances, Swing Shift Cinderella and Little Rural Riding Hood, are presented for your enjoyment in my two previous posts. If you don't see them immediately below this post, click HERE and they will magically appear. (Both will load with pictures of Dr. Who, but don't let that discourage you. And they may have 30 second commercials before the cartoons start, but they're wort the wait. Really!)

Red Hot Riding Hood was originally released with a different ending, in which Wolfie marries Grandma in a shotgun wedding. That ending, hinting at beastiality, was considered offensive, and replaced with the tamer finish shown here. Supposedly, some of Wolfie's racier reactions were also edited out. Whether that original version still exists is unknown, but we can hope. For now, I'm sure glad we have this one.

RED HOT RIDING HOOD


Overlooked Films is brought to you each Tuesday by Todd Mason, and links are posted at Sweet Freedom.

Overlooked Films: Swing Shift Cinderella (1945)



If you have trouble playing this, you might try it from the Justin.TV site, HERE.

Overlooked Films: Little Rural Riding Hood (1949)



If this fails to play, you can see it on the Justin.TV site, HERE.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Neckties to Kill: James Bond, 007

Another in our series of shameless neckwear. Yes, I've actually worn these and lived to tell the tale.


If you missed our first installment, featuring KING KONG, click HERE

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Line Rider: A SURPRISING New Story by Chuck Tyrell


Now playing at BEAT to a PULP:  Howey Simpson is no different than any other line rider for the Hashknife Outfit. But when he meets the Indian maiden of his dreams, his life begins to change - and by the end of the tale, his world will never be the same.

In the hands of western author Chuck Tyrell, what begins as a typical western story evolves into something very  different. I don't want to give too much away, but I can say that if you like westerns, you'll dig this story, and if you don't like westerns, you'll dig it anyway. Check it out right now in the latest issue of BEAT to a PULP.

Chuck Tyrell (aka Charlie Whipple) is the author of at least seven Black Horse Western novels. His short stories have appeared, among other places, in Where Legends Ride and A Fistful of Legends. And his latest book, The Snake Den, was released just last month by Solstice Publishing. You may have seen this very cool video, but here it is again. Chuck/Charlie blogs (often about the real West) at The Outlaw Trail.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Flush Fiction: A Bullet for Bouchcon

(click to enlarge)

Here it is, the Worst Short Story of 1982, from the tenth issue of my old DAPA-EM zine, Defunct. I'd be tempted to call it the worst story of the 80s, or even of all time, but I ran an even worse one in 1983. 

So who is this Todhunter Lewis dude? His identity remains a mystery. As you may know, Todhunter was the middle name of both Rex Stout and W.T. Ballard, so it's possible he was some no-talent shirt-tail relative. Or not. 

Since this tale was aimed at members of DAPA-EM, last names of some characters were not stated. Everyone knew who they were. But for the record, the gang featured here includes 1982 Dapa-Emmers Art Scott, Bob Napier, Bill Crider, Walter Albert, John Nieminski, Dorothy Nathan, Kathi Maio, Steve Stilwell and Marv Lachman. I think the guy with the beer bottle in his mouth is Bill Trojan. And the guy wearing the yellow pajamas is Brian Trainer, a hard-core Portland Wolfean who never got around to joining the apa. (For a definition of DAPA-EM, see Thursday's post HERE.)

Read at your own risk! Recommended procedure: Click on each page to ENLARGE, then hit the Back button to return to the post - OR - open each page in a new window.









Friday, February 11, 2011

Forgotten Books: Sherlock Holmes's War of the Worlds by Manly Wade Wellman and Son

You might like this book. There's a new edition out, and 8 of 10 people on Amazon gave it favorable reviews.

I wanted to like it. Maybe I did when I read it back in 1975. But this time it struck me as a perfect example of how NOT to turn a short story into a novel.

According to the Intro, the idea to team up Sherlock Holmes and Professor Challenger during the Martian invasion began with Wade Wellman, a poet, who took it to his pop, the well-known Manly Wade. Together, they sold a short story to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. When it was well-received, they wrote a sequel. Those two tales, told by Dr. Watson, form the last quarter of this book, and they're not bad. Not much really happens, but it's interesting to see these two fictional minds ponder the problem of the invaders. The sad thing is, these two stories are the best part of the book, but they're so undermined by all that comes before that it's hard to appreciate them.

The book leads off with a tale called "The Adventure of the Crystal Egg," based on a story by H.G. Wells. This one (along with the next two Parts) is told in third person by Edward Dunn Malone, the journalist who is the narrator of the Professor Challenger books. The story has elements of interest. We see how Holmes comes into possession of the egg and meets Challenger, which is pretty good stuff. Then they sit around gazing into the egg, seeing things taking place on Mars, and theorizing about it. But that's all that happens. There is no "Adventure." Though they are the first to know that ships are coming from Mars, they do nothing about it, and simply part ways, which sets up the next two segments of the book.

Part II, called "Sherlock Holmes versus Mars," is another misnomer. Holmes wanders around, sometimes witnessing events and sometimes gathering hearsay. Eventually he has a brief but inconsequential encounter with an invader. Ho hum. The most interesting part was seeing him walk from the village of Ware, north of the city, back to his digs at Baker Street. This was interesting only because my step-daughter once attended college in Ware, and my wife and I made the drive from London to visit her. It was a long and hairy drive.

The title of Part III, "Professor Challenger versus Mars," is also a lie. Challenger treks from London to the sea to put his wife on a ship to safety. Then he returns. He, too, has a brief encounter with an invader, but nothing comes of it. This part was so mind-numbing I actually skimmed - and when it comes to fiction I am not a skimmer.

In effect, Parts II and III served no purpose at all, save to fill in the time (and the book) between the crystal viewing and the arrival of Challenger at Baker Street, where the first magazine story begins. That tale, by the way, is the most misnamed of all. "The Adventure of the Martian Client," has no adventure, and there is no Martian client. Worst of all, it is now relegated to a recap of what little has happened in the first three parts.

Thankfully, the final segment, "Venus, Mars and Baker Street," is aptly named, presents new information, and actually tells a story. Hallelujah. The book ends on a positive note.

But here's the bottom line: If you already own this, or insist on buying it, read the last two stories first. Then proceed, if you wish, to the stuff about the egg. And then, and only then, if you are so inclined, delve into Parts II and III.

PLEASE NOTE: This week, Patti Abbott's Forgotten Book shoes are being filled by George Kelley, and I'm sure he looks absolutely fabulous in them. Find out HERE.

TOMORROW!  Direct from the hallowed pages of DAPA-EM comes the Worst Short Story of 1982 - - - "A Bullet for Bouchercon."  It's stuffed to the gills with such fictional heroes and villains as Art Scott, Bob Napier, Bill Crider, Walter Albert, John Nieminski, Dorothy Nathan, Kathi Maio, Steve Stilwell and Marv Lachman, with a cameo appearance by Robert B. Parker. Be afraid!