Friday, March 30, 2012

Forgotten Stories: "The Pool of Piranhas," a Spicy Adventure by Robert Leslie Bellem. READ IT HERE!

Ed. Note: From the creator of Dan Turner, Hollywood Detective, comes a classic tale of cheesy thrills and softcore romance. "The Pool of Piranhas" originally appeared in the Feb. 1935 issue of Spicy-Adventure. Read it if you dare.

P.S. To insure that the mag's advertisers get their money's worth, I've included selected ads from this issue. In responding to these advertisements, please don't mention where you saw them.


DARKNESS had long since fallen over the silent city of Ayudhya, ancient former capital of Siam. Outside, lowering clouds obscured the thin moon and cast ominous shadows on the earth.

Tate Shevlin, American soldier of fortune, strode down a second-floor corridor in the Me Nam Hotel. His heart hammered within his chest, and there was anticipation in his steel-grey eyes. After long weeks he was to see the Golden Girl again!

She had summoned him here to Siam, all the way from China. Once more he would look into her enigmatic azure eves, drink in the loveliness of her virginal body. There was a strange tightness in his throat as he paused before a closed door. He raised his fist and tapped a coded knock.

“Enter, Tate Shevlin.” It was the Golden Girl’s well-remembered voice, liquid, lilting, musical. Shevlin’s pulses leaped. He opened the door.

The Golden Girl stood there before him in the dim light—mysterious, tauntingly beautiful, filling Tate Shevlin with a surge of longing to take her into his arms. Her eyes were blue pools of promise, and her lips smiled a welcome. His gaze swept hungrily over her, drinking in the glorious beauty of her golden hair, the slender curves of her feminine figure. She was clad in a shimmering, clinging garment of yellow silk, through which strained the rounded prominences of her virginal breasts, like ripe pomegranates.

He took a step toward her—and then he brought up short. She was not alone!

Tate Shevlin stared at the other occupant of the room. He was a man of middle years, gaunt, ascetic-looking, clad in clergyman’s cloth. There was an appearance of sincerity about him, and his eyes met Tate Shevlin’s squarely.

The Golden Girl spoke. “You arrived quickly, Tate Shevlin.”

“I came as soon as I got your message.”

She touched his arm, and the brief contact of her slim fingers on his wrist sent an electric thrill through his being. “Tate Shevlin, I want you to meet Mr. Appleton, the American missionary whose letter brought me here to Siam.”

Shevlin’s hard hand met and clasped that of the clergyman. Then the Golden Girl spoke again. “I’d like to have you repeat what you’ve just been telling me, Mr. Appleton,” she said.

The missionary cleared his throat, toyed absently with the stem of his wrist-watch—a timepiece of rather curious design. “Gladly,” he responded. Then he addressed Tate Shevlin. “I have been a missionary here in Ayudhya for a number of years. Recently one of my parishioners came to me with a curious diamond-and-emerald jewel which he claimed to have found in a Bangkok. He was under the impression that it was one of Asia’s most famous jewels—one of the Claws of the Dragon.”

The Claws of the Dragon! Tate Shevlin tensed. Could it be possible that another of them had turned up? His thoughts went back to that fatal day in China, months ago, when the five Claws had been lost.

In the service of the mysterious Golden Girl, Tate Shevlin had been entrusted with a mission. She had given him the Claws of the Dragon, told him to deliver them to a certain man at Ningpo. But en route, Tate Shevlin had been captured by the Golden Girl’s political enemies—and the Golden Girl her self had been made prisoner.

Later, Tate Shevlin had rescued the Golden Girl—had saved her life from a howling mob of Chinese bandits. But in doing so, he had lost the Claws of the Dragon; and the jewels had become scattered all over Asia. Since then, Shevlin had succeeded in recovering two of the missing Claws; but three were still lost.

Appleton, the American missionary, went on. “My parishioner had heard of these famous jewels; knew something of their ownership. He asked me to write a letter to Shanghai—“

“Which I received,” the Golden Girl interposed. “It was that letter which brought me here. Now you say that this native parishioner will return the jewel to me if I can prove ownership, Mr. Appleton?”


Tate Shevlin frowned. He faced the Golden Girl. “How can you prove ownership?”

She smiled gently. “I have with me the two Claws which we have already recovered. I’ll compare them with the one in the native’s possession. If all three are identical, that will be proof enough.” She turned to the missionary. “Don’t you think so, Mr. Appleton?”

The clergyman nodded. “My parishioner has told me that such proof would satisfy him.” He glanced at his queerly shaped wrist-watch, and his brows rose. “Ten o’clock! It is time we were starting.”

A foreboding of evil struck at Tate Shevlin’s marrow. He looked at the Golden Girl. “You’re taking me with you, of course?”

She smiled. “No, Tate Shevlin. Not into this native’s house. You will wait or us outside.”

“But—there might be danger—!”

“Impossible! The man is a Christian convert!” Appleton said swiftly. And there was such sincerity in his voice that Tate Shevlin stifled his vague premonitions. . . .


ENMESHED in the tentacles of its countless canals, Ayudhya lay swathed in a sinister blanket of darkness. Cone-spired pagodas thrust pointed, ghostly fingers into the black night, and in the distance a temple gong clanged with brassy dissonance. The sound echoed eerily, metallically, over the dark waters.

At the edge of a narrow, twisting side-canal loomed a house, unlighted and somber. Stone steps led up out of the oily-black water, up to the bleak, forbidding doorway of the house.

As though from the jaws of nowhere, a small, flat-bottomed native boat glided beat of the shadows. Softly it grated against the stone steps.

Tate Shevlin shipped his dripping paddle. Carefully he reached out from the boat, steadied it against the stone staircase, He stared upward. Then he frowned.

The Golden Girl was in that house. She had gone there, an hour before, accompanied by the missionary, Appleton. They had told Tate Shevlin to return for them in an hour. Now the hour was up—but there was no sign of the Golden Girl; no sign of Appleton.

Again that presentiment of danger struck into the soldier of fortune; and his lips became a grim line. He looped a rope through an iron ring set into the stone steps; fastened his flat-bottomed boat. Then silently, cautiously, he stepped out onto the landing. He crept noiselessly toward the front door of the unlighted house.

And as he reached the door, it opened.

A girl confronted him. Shevlin stared at her. In the gloom he saw her dark eyes, her honey-colored skin, her full red lips. Through the clinging dark silk of her native Siamese costume he could see the flaunting curves of her ripening body—the seductive sweep of her hips, the taut promontories of her full breasts.

For an instant she seemed startled at his presence there. Then she smiled and spoke in the Bangkok dialect.

“You—you seek the yellow-haired girl and the American missionary?” she asked softly.

“Yes.” Tate Shevlin’s voice was crisp, sharp. “They are here? They are—safe?”

“Of course!” The Siamese girl smiled at him. “Will you come in?”

He passed through the doorway, into the darkness of the corridor. Behind him he heard the native girl as she closed the heavy door of the house. And then some instinctive sixth sense made Tate Shevlin pivot on his heel.

He was not too soon. The honey-skinned girl was leaping at him—and in her upraised hand was a glittering, wavy-bladed Malay kris!

With an oath the soldier of fortune sprang sidewise as the deadly blade swished past his shoulder to thud harmlessly into the wall behind him. Then his hard hands went out. He caught at the girl’s knife-wrist, twisted it viciously. Her fingers came away from the handle of the blade that quivered in the wall.

Her red mouth opened to cry out. He slapped his hard palm against her parted lips, muffling her voice. She twisted in his grasp, struggling for freedom.

Shevlin bent her backward. She swayed, went to the floor. He fell on top of her, held her with the weight of his sinewy body. With his left hand still clamped over her mouth, he reached out with his right, grasped at the edge of her silken tunic. He ripped it savagely. With the tattered strips he tore from the gar ment he gagged her, bound her wrists and ankles. Then he arose, stared down at her.

Her dark eyes, freighted with hate, glared back at him like those of a trapped wild animal. Her body, bare to the waist where he had ripped away her tunic, was a symphony in flesh; her naked breasts, the color of old ivory and melon-rounded, rose and fell sharply with her labored breathing.

But Tate Shevlin had no eyes for her voluptuous Oriental femininity. He was thinking of the Golden Girl—and of the missionary, Appleton. They were in danger! The native girl’s unexpected attack on Tate Shevlin proved that!

He stared down the long, dim corridor. He saw a closed door—a door whose edges revealed ribbons of light. He launched himself headlong toward it.

He crashed against the wooden barrier. It splintered inward under the terrific impact of his hurtling body.

Tate Shevlin lunged into the lighted room beyond the wrecked door. He stared about him. Then he went white beneath his tan.

The room was large, furnished with Oriental splendor. At one end, occupying the entire space, was a marble-lined pool—a swimming-pool, at first glance. But there was no water in it. . . .

There was no water. There was only—a skeleton! A human skeleton!

Tate Shevlin’s horrified eyes gazed down into the empty pool, stared at the fleshless thing at its bottom. And then he cursed in his throat. On the left wrist of the skeleton he saw a wrist-watch, curiously-shaped and oddly-fashioned. He recognized it. It was the watch he had seen on the wrist of Appleton, the missionary, just an hour before!

And the skeleton—the skeleton was all that remained of Appleton himself!

A great horror shook at the foundations of Tate Shevlin’s consciousness. He licked his suddenly dry lips. Appleton—the missionary—a living, breathing man of flesh and blood sixty minutes ago, and now a grinning skeleton!

The weird, incredible, fantastic face gibbered at Tate Shevlin’s brain. It was impossible—yet it was true! It could not be—and yet it was! As though it a nightmare of unreality he turned away from the pool’s edge. And then, suddenly, he tensed.

What was that?

It came again—a woman’s faint, frightened wail. It was the voice of the Golden Girl!

Tate Shevlin whirled in his tracks. He lunged toward the door through which he had entered this room of incredible horror. And as he reached it a man appeared framed in the splintered portal—huge, evil-faced, slant-eyed and glowering; a thick-chested Asiatic with blood-lust in his glaring almond eyes.

The man stared at Tate Shevlin for the fractional part of an instant. Then he hurled his huge bulk straight at the American.

Shevlin side-stepped. His balled right fist swung up. It caught his attacker full on the mouth. The man’s yellow, demoniac features were blotted in a sudden smear of crimson. He staggered. Tate Shevlin slashed forward—From behind him he heard a stealthy movement. He wheeled, turned. “Damn you—!” he roared savagely. But he was too late. There was another assailant at his back. Shevlin felt a thin noose settling about his throat, dropped there by one who had crept soundlessly up behind him.

The noose tightened. Tate Shevlin clawed at it with his fingers. His grey eyes went glassy; his breath was searing torture in his laboring lungs.

A fist smashed against his jaw. The American went to his knees. Heavy boots kicked cruelly into his ribs, crashed against his unprotected head. He pitched face-forward to the floor. He felt his arms being bound behind him; felt himself shoved into a chair beside the edge of the empty pool. Then the noose about his neck was loosened. He opened his battered eyes, stared about him chilly.

His aching muscles quivered suddenly, and crimson rage hammered in his veins. His two attackers had left him alone for a moment; now they were returning. Now they were entering the room—and grasped ruthlessly in their savage arms was the weakly-struggling figure of the Golden Girl!

She saw Tate Shevlin, trussed and helpless; and abruptly the life went out of her blue eyes, and she ceased to struggle. Her shoulders sagged wearily.

Impotent to aid her, Tate Shevlin saw the two Orientals bind the Golden Girl into a chair beside his, at the edge of the pool. Then one of the Asiatics spoke. He was the one into whose leering features Tate Shevlin had smashed his hard fist, just a moment before.

“So!” the yellow-faced man grinned bloodily. He stared at the Golden Girl. “You had your bodyguard with you!”

The Golden Girl met the stare of the man’s evil, slanted ophidian eves without flinching. “Coward!” she shot out contemptuously.

The Asiatic scowled; took a threaten ing step toward her. Then he stopped still. His slanted eyes licked over her body in its clinging, yellow gown. “You think me a coward? You may have reason to regret those words before this night is done!” His voice hardened. “For the last time—where are those jewels?”

The Golden Girl was defiantly silent.

The yellow-skinned one grinned again, wolfishly. “You still refuse to tell me, do you? Then let me say this: a very horrible death awaits you unless you give me those two Claws which are in your possession!”

“I did not bring them with me!” she answered evenly.

“But I think you are telling a lie. And it does not pay to tell lies to Fang Shan!”

“Fang Shan?” Tate Shevlin spoke for the first time, wonderingly.

The Asiatic turned sardonic eyes upon the gyved American soldier of fortune. “Yes,” he answered mockingly. “I am Fang Shan—elder brother of that Fang Ling whom you killed some months ago!”

“I killed him in a fair fight!” Shevlin rasped. “Just as I’ll kill you—with my naked hands—if you’ll release me!”

Fang Shan grinned. Deliberately he strode up to Tate Shevlin, raised his fist. He smashed it into the American’s face. “That will teach you to hold your tongue, dog!” he snarled.

Then he turned to the Golden Girl. “I trapped you very nicely, did I not? I fooled Appleton, the American missionary, into sending you a letter inviting you to come here to claim one of the missing Claws. At my suggestion, he hinted that you bring with you the two jewels you had already recovered, so that you could compare them with the one I had.”

The Golden Girl shivered involuntarily. “Appleton—where is he? What have you done to him?”

Fang Shan laughed. He pointed a long, yellow finger toward the bottom of the marble pool. “There lies Appleton what is left of him!” he grated as he indicated the skeleton at the bottom of the pool. Then, abruptly, he sprang at the Golden Girl. His claw-like hands went to her throat, grasped at the neck of her silken garment. He yanked down ward savagely, sadistically. The yellow silk of the Golden Girl’s dress ripped open.

Tate Shevlin twisted helplessly, ragingly, at the ropes which bound him.  Again and again Fang Shan’s hands went out, tearing the Golden Girl’s silken frock to tattered ribbons, until at last she sat there, trussed to her chair, almost completely nude.

Her lovely white body was like chiseled marble turned suddenly into warm, living flesh. Flawless shoulders melted into firm, rose-tinted breasts of breathtaking beauty. Her flat, deeply-dimpled white stomach curved into the warm, satin-skinned perfection of hips and thighs—slender, virginal, goddess-like. 

Ruthlessly Fang Shan fumbled in the shreds of her clothing, seeking some thing he could not find seeking the Claws of the Dragon. Tate Shevlin cursed as the Asiatic’s hands profaned the naked loveliness of the Golden Girl’s body.

Then Fang Shan stepped backward, baffled. His slanted eyes glared insanely with frustration. “You have those two Claws!” he snarled. “Tell me where they are!”

The Golden Girl was silent, defiant. 

Fang Shan whirled to the other Asiatic who had aided him in overcoming Tate Shevlin. “Bring in the servant girl who admitted this American dog!” he commanded.

The second Oriental went out. Fang Shan sneered at the Golden Girl. “In a moment you will see what happened to your friend, the missionary. It is the same fate that lies in store for you—if you do not give me the Claws!”

Still the Golden Girl was silent. 

Abruptly, the second Asiatic came back into the room. In his arms he carried the bound figure of the Siamese girl who had attacked Tate Shevlin in the outer corridor. He set her on her feet.  Fang Shan leaped at her.

There was a dagger in his hand. He slashed at her bonds, freed her. She stood there before him, swaying. Her dark eyes were fathomless pits of fear.

Fang Shan spoke. “So, faithless daughter of a camel! You disobeyed my orders. I told you to open the front door, to look out upon the canal and see if this house was under observation.  Instead, you admitted an enemy!”

Nude to the waist where Shevlin had ripped her tunic from her body in order to bind her, the Siamese girl shivered.  “Master, I—I—tried to kill him when he entered, but he overpowered me!” she wailed, terror-stricken.

“And for that, you know the penalty,” Fang Shan rasped. He reached toward her, grasped her bare, ivory waist in his hands. He squeezed viciously.

She screamed in sudden pain. “Master—you hurt me—!” Her red mouth opened wide.

“It is but a foretaste of the pain that is in store for you!” Fang Shan grinned evilly. He turned to the other Asiatic. “Attend to the pool at once! Admit my charming pets!”

The second Oriental bowed, went to the edge of the empty pool. He twisted a huge lever. From the mouth of a great pipe at the far side of the pool, Tate Shevlin saw a sudden gush of clear water. Like a torrent it flowed into the pool—and suddenly the American soldier of fortune widened his grey eyes. Through the water he now saw flickering, swiftly-moving shapes—hundreds of them. They were silvery fish, two to three feet long. They lashed about in the rapidly-filling marble basin like miniature sharks, savagely, voraciously. There were so many that they seemed to choke the water.

Fang Shan spoke. "Do you know what those fish are, American dog? They are South American piranhas! The most savage, blood-thirsty creatures that swim! Many Siamese import them for the sport of fish-fighting; but I keep them for another purpose!"

Abruptly, Tate Shevlin realized what was coming; and a wave of nausea swept into his guts. Now the water had ceased flowing from the mouth of the pipe, and the pool was filled. He stared down into the swimming things—saw their shining silvery forms, abdomens serrated with sharp spines, mouths snapping open and shut to reveal vicious teeth. He turned back to Fang Shan—

"You murderous son of a—" The words died in Shevlin's throat as, horrified, he saw the Asiatic raise his knife high in the air and bring it plunging downward into the quivering, bare breast of the Siamese girl!

She screamed once, horribly. Crimson foam flecked her twisted lips. She swayed. Blood gushed hotly from her breast as Fang Shan withdrew the smoking, crimson-stained knife.

The second Oriental caught her as she fell. With one movement he ripped the silken trousers from her legs and hips. Then he picked up her lifeless, naked body, poised it high in the air—and hurled it into the waters of the pool.

There was a great splash as the corpse struck the water. Warm blood flowed from the dead girl's breast, staining the surface to a pinkish hue. Abruptly, as the blood spread, there came a sudden flurry of fins—

"My God!" The Golden Girl's cry was faint, terrified. Tate Shevlin forced himself to stare down into the roiled water. He saw a swarm of piranhas dart at the sinking body of the murdered Siamese girl. Savage teeth ripped scissor-like at the honey-colored flesh, tearing it horribly. . . .

Then, mercifully, blood stained the water so deep a crimson that nothing could be seen save the turgid disturb ance caused by the swarming piranhas at their ghastly, ghoulish meal. . . .

Ten minutes later Fang Shan walked callously to another lever, swung it over. A huge vent opened at the bottom of the pool, so that the crimson water swirled downward through the drain, carrying the vicious piranhas with it. And when at last the pool had been emptied, Tate Shevlin stared down at its marble bottom—and saw a second skeleton lying, twisted and grotesque, beside the bones of Appleton, the missionary!

Fang Shan faced the Golden Girl sardonically. “Do not fear, little yellow flower. My pets have not escaped. They are caught in a net below the pool, while the bloody water flows into the canal outside. Then they are placed in a tank of fresh water, where they will await the time for them to devour another victim!” His slanted eyes narrowed. “Do you know who the next victim is to be?”

“Wh-who?” the Golden Girl faltered.

“Your friend here—the man who killed my brother!” Fang Shan rasped.

She twisted in her chair. “Tate—Tate Shevlin! They can’t do that to you! I—“

Fang Shan sneered. “You wish to save his life?”

“Yes! Yes!”

“Then give me the two Claws of the Dragon which you possess!”

The Golden Girl slumped against her bonds. “They—they are in the heels of my shoes!” she whispered brokenly.

Fang Shan leaped at her, wrenched the high-heeled slippers from her tiny feet. Swiftly he tore the heels away from the shoes; stared at them. Then he grinned wolfishly, and his almond eyes lighted with an insane lust. Each heel was hollow. He reached in with his fingers, extracted two glittering, coruscating, diamond-and-emerald jewels—the Claws of the Dragon!

“So!” he grated triumphantly. Then he delved into a pocket in his jacket, extracted a chamois bag. He opened it, spilled it into his palm. Another jewel appeared—identical in every detail with the two he had taken from the Golden Girl. It was the third Claw!

Fang Shan laughed. Insanely he fondled the three gleaming jewels. Then he wheeled, faced the other Asiatic.

“Fill the pool once more—admit the piranhas! They shall feast well to night!” he barked.

The Golden Girl paled. “You—you will not keep your bargain? You intend to—kill—” she gasped faintly.

Aie, golden lily! I intend to kill your American companion—feed him to my charming pets! And you, too, shall have your white body fed into their voracious maws—after I have finished with you in . . . other ways!”

Fang Shan went toward her, leaned over her. He thrust his leering, brutal yellow face close to hers. His lips lowered to her bare shoulders, lingered there esuriently, erotically. His hands crept, claw-like, toward the quivering tips of her nude, out-thrust breasts. . . .

She screamed. He placed the fiat of his hand over her mouth. Her white teeth clamped down into the flesh of his palm.

Fang Shan jerked back. His glittering eyes narrowed, snake-like. “For that, golden flower, you shall be forced to watch the death of your companion—a sight I might have spared you, had you been nicer to me!” He leaped to the far lever at the edge of the pool, twisted it. Clear water gushed from the mouth of the pipe, and once more Tate Shevlin saw those flashing, gray-silver shapes in the rising water.

“Unbind the American dog! Strip him! Thrust your knife into his heart and throw him to the piranhas!” Fang Shan barked to his yellow-featured Asiatic accomplice. The second Oriental bowed, sprang at Tate Shevlin. A blade gleamed in his fist. He slashed at the ropes that bound the soldier of fortune to the chair.

It was the moment Tate Shevlin had long awaited. As his gyves dropped, he gathered his muscles in one mighty effort. Then he leaped.

He flung himself full at his attacker. Their hard bodies met—crashed to gether. The Oriental’s knife rose, fell sharply. Tate Shevlin felt the cold steel bite into the flesh of his shoulder, and a raging demon of pain shot through his arm. He backed away. He stumbled, almost fell, against the chair to which he had been tied just a short moment ago. His hand leaped out behind him, grasped at the chair. He swung it over his head in a whirling, venomous arc—threw it straight at the oncoming Asiatic.

It caught the man squarely between the eyes, battered him down. And as he sank, Tate Shevlin flashed forward, leaped on the prostrate form. He grabbed at the knife that had fallen from the Oriental’s senseless fingers. He whirled.

Fang Shan was leaping toward him. There was an automatic in his yellow fist and frenetic rage in his slanted eyes. He raised the muzzle of his weapon, trained it at Tate Shevlin’s head

Shevlin whipped back his arm, poised it for a split-second, and hurled the gleaming knife into Fang Shan’s face. The blade turned over in the air, once. Then its point plunged sickeningly into Fang Shan’s forehead, buried itself to the hilt in the yellow man’s seething brain.

Fang Shan uttered a gasping cry. Then he swayed, toppled—and fell back ward into the pool of piranhas.

The Golden Girl cried out. “Tate Shevlin—look!”

The soldier of fortune stared down into the water; stared at the sudden flurry of silver-grey bodies, saw the growing crimson stain that spread through the water as the voracious piranhas flashed into action.

Again Shevlin heard the voice of the Golden Girl. “The Claws of the Dragon—Fang Shan had them in his pocket when he—tumbled into the water!”

Tate Shevlin leaped for the lever that controlled the huge drain at the bottom of the pool. He yanked at it. Then his lips drew back in a soundless snarl. “It’s stuck—I can’t drain out the water!” he rasped. Then, as the Golden Girl struggled against her fetters, tried to stay him, he turned and plunged into the crimson water.

Silver shapes glided at him. He fought them off with his hands, desperately. He was fully clothed: only his face and his hands were exposed. His lungs bursting, he battled his way down to the pool’s bottom, straining his eyes to see through the nauseating redness of the water. He felt a sharp pain at his wrist where scissor-like teeth nipped at him. He beat at the piranhas, drove them off. Then his hands encountered something soft and warm and horribly lacerated . . . the face of Fang Shan, with the knife-handle still protruding from the already-fleshless skull!

He wrenched at the knife. It came away in his grasp. Then, while the blood roared in his ears, he felt his way to Fang Shan’s torso, plunged his hand into the dead man’s pocket. He found the chamois bag—the bag in which reposed the three Claws of the Dragon. He grabbed at it, beat away the hordes of destroying fish that came at him. He shot to the surface.

He was at the edge of the pool. Desperately he pulled himself out of the water. Then he leaped to the Golden Girl’s side, slashed away the ropes that held her prisoner. She swayed to her feet, her tattered silken dress hanging in shreds from her almost-nude body.

For a brief instant he looked at her, drinking in the loveliness of her exposed feminine charms. Then he grabbed her, lifted her in his strong arms, and leaped with her out of the room, out of the house.

His little flat-bottomed native boat was still tied to the stone steps. Gently he lowered the Golden Girl into the bobbing craft. Then he stepped in behind her, cut the rope. He grabbed at his paddle, shoved it against the ancient stone steps—

The tiny boat drifted out into the canal, into the surrounding, all-engulfing night.


TATE SHEVLIN lay on a hospital bed in Bangkok, the knife-wound in his shoulder tightly swathed in bandages and his lacerated hands buried in white wrappings. He stared up into the misty blue eyes of the Golden Girl.

She leaned over him, and the low vee of her yellow dress revealed the sweet valley between her lovely breasts. It was the next day; and the events of the previous night—the treachery of Fang Shan—the pool of piranhas—seemed like a vague and half-remembered dream to Tate Shevlin.

He spoke. All the old longing to possess the Golden Girl, to hold her in his arms, welled up in his heart.

“Beloved—can’t we leave all this behind us?” he pleaded. “We have recovered three of the five Claws. Let the other two go. Let me take you back to America—to happiness!”

Slowly she shook her head. “It can not be, Tate Shevlin,” she answered softly, regretfully. “Until I have fulfilled my pledge to Chen Tsing Gat—until I have recovered all five Claws of the Dragon—I am bound to the Orient with ties that nothing can sever.” Then she smiled. “When the last of the Claws have been found, then perhaps we can think of our . . . love.”

“And the immediate future?” he persisted wearily.

“I am taking a steamer for Shanghai thirty minutes from now. When you have been discharged from the hospital, you will follow.” She leaned close to him, and her lips brushed his mouth thrillingly, evanescently.

“We will meet again, Tate Shevlin,” she said.

She went out. He closed his eyes. He slept.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Overlooked Films: The ORIGINAL Rin-Tin-Tin

I've been reading Susan Orlean's fine new book, Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend (review coming soon), and wishing I could see some of the original Rinty's silent films. Where the North Begins, his first starring vehicle, and the two other films below are among the few that still survive, and are available on DVD (though not on DVDs I happen to own).

At bottom, a clip from the 1927 film Hills of Kentucky, showing old Rinty in action.




Friday, March 23, 2012

Forgotten Stories: A FREE Race Williams adventure by Carroll John Daly

These days, Race Williams gets grudging acknowledgment as the first hard-boiled private detective to get his own series, but that’s about it. Truth to tell, he’s much more than that. He was also the most popular hard-boiled dick of the 30s, and enjoyed the longest running pulp career of any detective character.

From his debut in June, 1923 to his last bow in May, 1955, Race made more than ninety magazine appearances. A good number of those appearances featured segments of serialized novels later published in hardcover - and those novels are all now available, either in paper reprints or in PDF form (from Vintage Library).

But beyond the novels are at least fifty more stories and novelettes that have never been reprinted. One of those is “Alias Buttercup,” from the October, 1925 issue of Black Mask. This was Race’s tenth adventure, and it’s a far cry from his often-reprinted first appearance, “The Knights of the Open Palm.”

“Knights” was a quickie, and packed with bad grammar. It’s too bad that story is the only encounter most readers have had with Race Williams. “Alias Buttercup” was written two years later, when Daly had a much better grip on the character, and on his grammar. And this one filled 39 pages of Black Mask, making it almost a novella.

At the time, Black Mask still featured Western stories along with the mysteries, and this one veers into Western territory, taking Race to Mexico, where he actually rides a horse. Daly’s version of contemporary Mexico is very much like the Old West, and this was not the first time he’d sent a New York gunman down there to shoot it out with the locals. He did it a year earlier in the serialized version of Two-Gun Gerta, the sort-of Western he co-wrote with C.C. Wadell (reviewed HERE).

Anyway, “Alias Buttercup” is a good example of Race’s early career. It’s breezy, exuberant, and packed with action an sudden death. No, it ain’t great writing, but it’s great fun. I recommend you turn off your inner editor, access your inner fifteen-year-old and check out the first few paragraphs below.

If you’d like a copy of the whole story via email, write me at, and I’ll shoot it back to you.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Overlooked Films: The Plainsman (1936)

You just ain't seen The Old West until you've seen Cecil B. DeMille's version of The Old West. It begins with Abe Lincoln on his way to Ford's Theatre, ends with Wild Bill Hickock shot in the back in Deadwood, and crams the rest of the American Experience into the middle - all in 113 minutes. And it's great entertainment, as long as you don't give a dang about a little thing called History.

To be fair, DeMille does give us fair warning. Right after the opening credits, we're told, "The story that follows compresses many years, many lives, and widely separated events into one narrative - in an attempt to do justice to the courage of the plainsman of the West."

The story centers around three figures that have attained near-mythic status - those being Wild Bill Hickock, Buffalo Bill Cody and Calamity Jane - so it should be no surprise to see them used in outlandish fashion. But somehow, it is. DeMille puts them through paces that make even the myths sound reasonable.

The casting is interesting too. Personality-wise, Gary Cooper makes a good Hickock, but they made not the slightest effort to make him look like Hickock. No mustache, no beard, and no long hair - despite the fact that the dialogue makes reference at least twice to his hair being long. In short, he looks exactly like Gary Cooper, and I can only assume DeMille didn't want any hair coming between Cooper and his star power.

Jean Arthur is an odd choice for Calamity Jane. As a frontierswoman, she's ridiculous, but as the woman Hickock loves to pretend he doesn't love - which, in the context of this film, is more important - she ain't bad. Then we have the relatively obscure James Ellison portraying Buffalo Bill as an overgrown Boy Scout. And Anthony Quinn makes a brief appearance as a singing Indian. Thankfully, Gabby Hayes rides through with an arrow in his back, just to remind us this is a real Western.

The dialogue is a bit overblown - no surprise in a DeMille film - but I was surprised to see that Harold Lamb was credited as one of the three screenwriters. That was my first inkling that Lamb worked in Hollywood. According to IMDb, he also got partial screenwriting credit for the 1938 version of The Buccaneer, and a 1935 flick called The Crusades. Makes me want to see 'em.

Overlook more Films at SWEET FREEDOM.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Forgotten Books: The Gods of Mars & The Warlord of Mars

Gotta admit, one of the main attractions to reviewing this book is having an excuse to revisit all this amazing Frazetta artwork. But I enjoyed the rereading, too, more than I expected, and found The Gods of Mars to be quite a surprise.

Along with A Princess of Mars, these books form a trilogy. But between Princess and Gods there's a ten-year gap in the story. Not so here. Warlord picks up immediately after Gods ends, and if not for a shift in theme and tone, they might be considered one long novel. 

At one time or another, I've read all of ERB's books. I enjoy the action, the mystery, the romance, the imagination, the mellodrama and (especially) the great battle scenes. But in most cases (Warlord included), that's all there is to them. The surprise in The Gods of Mars is that Burroughs pursued a serious theme. He took on organized religion and pretty much kicked butt.

When red and green skinned Martian believers (and there are no unbelievers) make the journey to heaven, most are devoured by a race of disgusting plant men. Most of those who escape the plant men are torn limb from limb by great white apes. Those few who survive the apes become slaves for a year to an ancient, toad-like crone, after which they are put to death. The toad-like crone, in turn, is queen of a black-skinned race that believes they are the true chosen ones, and have exclusive rights on reaching heaven. But that, too, is a lie, because are in turn eaten by holiest race of all, the white skins.

This had to be pretty heady stuff for 1912. Makes me wonder how Burroughs really felt about religion, and how much flak he took from the church. One of these days I'll have dig out my copy of Irwin Porges' huge ERB biography and see if it tells me.

More Forgotten Books at Sweet Freedom!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Battle of the Bands: The Beatles vs. Spike Jones & his City Slickers

One of the few truly boring recordings ever laid down by the Beatles, was "The Sheik of Araby," for the 1962 project rejected by Decca Records. Truth be told, though, it's a pretty cool song, especially in the hands of a guy like Spike Jones. But hey, don't take my word for it. See (and hear) for yourself.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Overlooked Films: Princess of Mars (2009)

Here's a flick that was overlooked even before it was released - direct to DVD. Would I like to see it sometime? Yeah, I suppose. As long as I don't have to pay.

Traci Lords as Dejah Thoris

Matt Lasky as Tars Tarkus

More, and surely better, Overlooked Films at Sweet Freedom.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Forgotten Books: The Score by Richard Stark (with a little help from Hammett)

Not long ago, when I reread the complete adventures of the Continental Op, I thought one of the cooler stories was "The Gutting of Couffignal," which originally appeared in Black Mask back in December, 1925.

In Hammett's story, a gang of thugs plan to plan to rob an entire island, and if not for the Op, they would have pulled it off. 39 years later, Donald Westlake turned the island into a canyon, made his character Parker the leader of the thugs and replayed the tale from the point-of-view of the bad guys. And this time, there was no Op standing in their way.

All of that made for a great set-up, and the job goes smoother than expected - until it all goes to hell, and the Hammett mold is broken. The Score is the fifth in the Parker series, and at least as good as any of those that came before. And the legacy of "The Gutting of Couffignal" still lives on. 44 years after Westlake borrowed the idea, Robert B. Parker used it for Spenser in Rough Weather. I guess a truly good story just never gets old.

The Score also marked the first appearance of Westlake/Stark's quirky actor/thug Alan Grofield, who went on to appear in more Parker novels and four books of his own. 

Forgotten any books? Remember them every Friday at pattinase.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Mr. Crockett meets Mr. Hitchcock

Linda Landrigan of Alfred Hitchock's Mystery Magazine did me the honor of accepting a story recently, and it's now on sale for all the world to see.

"Mr. Crockett and the Bear," in the May 2012 issue, is narrated by a modern day descendant of The King of the Wild Frontier (an attorney currently holding his ancestor's old seat in the Tennessee State Legislature), but the real star of the story is Old Davy himself, who serves as a sort of sidekick, mentor and all around pain in the ass. And if that's not enough, it features a cool woodcut-style illustration by artist Tim Foley.

The mag should be going on sale at fine retailers like Barnes and Noble just about now, and is also available in a variety of electronic formats from Fictionwise. Because this is a new release, Fictionwise is offering 15% the normal price, for only $3.39. That offer is good only until Monday morning at 10am Eastern, so if you're interested you should beat feet over there right away. That's HERE.

Davy and I will also be eternally grateful to Mr. Robert Lopresti, who said kind things about the tale on his blog, Little Big Crimes. That's HERE. (And the eagle-eyed among you may have already noted that this issue's star attraction is another of Mr. L's great Leopold Longshanks stories, so even if you don't give a hoot about Mr. Crockett, you'll want it for Mr. Longshanks.)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Overrestored Films: Guns Along the Trail (aka Paradise Canyon)

Some folks think adding color to black and white films is wrong. Not me. When it’s done right (like with Disney’s Zorro series) colorization can be a beautiful thing. But when it’s done wrong, as it was with Paradise Canyon, the film looks as washed out as an old hand-tinted photograph - and way worse than the original.

But the folks who decided to “restore” this 1935 film didn’t stop there. They also added a lame musical soundtrack produced with a tinny-sounding synthesizer. Every time I almost reached a point where I could ignore the pale colorization, the artificial music blared out - twice as loud as the dialogue - and reminded me I was watching an atrocity.

The only good thing I can say about this 2007 restored version (retitled Guns Along the Trail) is that the picture has been cleaned up, eliminating most of the flicker and fuzz common to these old oaters. If the restoration had stopped there, leaving the color and soundtrack alone, I'd be a happy man.

Paradise Canyon is one of those many Wayne films in the public domain, and has been packaged and repackaged on cheap DVDs for many years. I saw it in that form not long ago, and it’s no great shakes anyway. There’s too much talk, not enough action and nary a hint of comic relief. All the movie really has going for it is Wayne, with a semi-interesting performance by Yakima Canutt as the villain.

And why the new title - Guns Along the Trail? There are guns in it, it's true, though they aren’t used much. But because this is one of those odd westerns set in the Not-So-Old West of the 1930s, there are no trails. They have roads. Of course, the title Paradise Canyon made no sense either. There’s no canyon, and nothing remotely resembling paradise. Apparently both titles were just pulled out of a hat.

More Overlooked Films down the trail at Sweet Freedom.