Saturday, April 30, 2011

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" was 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.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Skyler Hobbs and the Magic Solution

Skyler Hobbs peered down his long nose at the little man seated next to me on the sofa.

“I must advise you, Mr. Schumacher, that my good friend here does not wish me to take your case.”

Arnie Schumacher, owner-operator of Arnie’s Electronics, turned to goggle at me, his eyes huge and watery through thick spectacles. “But why? I have not even told you my problem.”

I shrugged. I’d voiced no objection, but Hobbs had ferreted it out just the same. That’s the trouble with befriending a man who thinks he’s the reincarnation of Sherlock Holmes.

“The doctor,” Hobbs said, nodding at me, “feels you have siphoned customers from his computer repair business by undercutting his prices. Do you deny the charge?”

Arnie looked bewildered.

I handed him one of my business cards: Jason Wilder - Computer Doctor.

“Don’t mind Hobbs,” I said. “It’s his idea of a parlor trick. Probably spotted kilobytes under your fingernails. Still, he’s right. How can you afford to work so cheap?”

Arnie looked from me to Hobbs and wrung his hands. “Because, gentlemen, I am not really working. The items repair themselves—as if by magic!”

I stood, ready to usher him out. Dealing with Hobbs was all the insanity I could handle.

But Hobbs had that gleam in his eye. The one that said, Aha! The game is afoot.  He took his pipe and tobacco from their place on the mantel and settled into his rocker. “You have my full attention, sir. Pray continue.”

The story was quickly told. Arnie had opened shop in the 60s, fixing toasters and blenders, and graduated to TV and stereo equipment. He’d done all right until the past few years, when everything became computerized. Now most of the work was in computer repair. But his eyesight was failing, technology was passing him by, and he’d found himself up to his neck in unrepaired equipment and unpaid bills.

“Though it shamed me greatly,” he said, “I was about to declare bankruptcy, when the magic started. One morning I came downstairs—my wife and I share a small apartment above the shop—and went down to the basement, where I have my workshop. Everything in the place had been fixed!”

Hobbs’ eyes shone. “And you attribute this to magic.”

“My wife, she thinks it must be angels. Me, I just don’t know. But my business was saved. The faster work came in, the faster it repaired itself. I felt guilty taking money for nothing, so I lowered prices, and customers came in droves.”

“Assuming we believe any of this,” I said, feeling snarky, “why come to Hobbs? Sounds to me like you’ve got it made.”

“I do,” Arnie said. “I do. But it is not right. A man should work, and receive fair compensation for his labors. I come to you, Mr. Hobbs, to discover the truth of the matter. Will you help?”

Hobbs made an O of his mouth and blew out a large smoke ring. Pursing his lips, he sent several smoke bullets through the target.

“Mr. Schumacher, I find this matter to be of the greatest interest. The doctor and I will be only too happy to assist you.”

Happy. That was me. Too happy for words.

That night, Hobbs and I hid behind stacks of boxes in Schumacher’s basement. Hobbs had insisted we needed bait, so despite my objections we’d hauled a dozen unfixed computers from my own shop and stacked them on the long workbench.

As we waited in the darkness, I whispered, “All right, Hobbs, you’ve put me off long enough. I want to know what’s going on.”

“You observed, of course, that this establishment is located next to a Wells Fargo Bank.”

“Sure,” I lied. All I’d noticed was the MacDonald’s across the street. I could almost smell Big Macs.

“Is it not possible,” he said, “that our client’s late night visitors are attempting to tunnel into the bank and break into its vault?”

“Maybe. But if that were so, we’d have seen evidence of digging.”

“Not if the thieves are exceedingly clever.  In any case…”

As Hobbs paused, I heard slight sounds from the floor above. The click of a key in a lock, and the creak of footsteps.

“In any case,” he said again, “we shall soon know. I am quite certain our quarry has arrived. Now, Watson, would be the time to produce your trusty revolver.”

“Wilder,” I whispered. “And you know damn well I don’t own a gun.”

But I began to wish I did. The creaking had moved to the stairs, and a moment later the basement door opened. Florescent ceiling lights blinked on, and we crouched lower behind the boxes.

“Damn!” said a hushed voice. “The geezer’s got a lot of new shit.”

“Cool,” came the reply. “We’ll make a haul on this.”

As the voices moved to the center of the room, I shifted to a crack between the boxes.

Two teenage boys in ratty T-shirts and low-slung jeans stood at the workbench, examining the repair tags.

“Dibs on this HP,” one boy said. “All it needs is a network interface.”

“I’ll start with this laptop,” the other said.

Both selected tools from the table and set to work. These didn’t look like bank robbers to me.

I turned to Hobbs and raised an eyebrow. He merely nodded at me. If this performance surprised him he did a great job of hiding it.
We watched a while longer, seeing nothing but quick and competent repair work.

Finally Hobbs stood, pushing the boxes aside, and aimed a bony finger at the two astonished boys.

“Stop!” he said in a commanding voice. “Dr. Watson here is armed, and if you attempt to flee he will surely shoot you.”

I shook my head. “Wilder,” I said, “and I’m not shooting anybody. But I would like to know what the hell’s going on.”


Next morning, we sat in a plush private office above the flagship store of the worldwide mega-chain, Schumacher’s Shoes. Facing us across an enormous desk was a beetle-browed man bearing a distinct resemblance to our client. The brass nameplate on his desk read Marvin Schumacher, President and CEO.

Though Marvin looked younger than Arnie, his hair was thinning, and he’d tried to cover it with the silliest comb-over this side of Donald Trump. His whole office, in fact, seemed modeled after the board room on The Apprentice. He fixed us with a Trump-like scowl.

“So you know,” he said. “You telling Arnie?”

“I know,” Hobbs said, “that you hired those lads to help your brother. And I believe I know why. But before determining a course of action, I wish to hear the tale from your own lips.”

“You‘ve met Arnie,” Marvin said, “so maybe you understand. He’s always been too proud for his own good. Won’t accept charity, even from his own flesh and blood. I called my old high school, got the names of those computer geeks, and gave them a key. You know the rest.”

“You chose well,” Hobbs said. “My friend here has inspected their work, and judged it to be excellent.”

Marvin nodded. “Arnie had a sweet deal going, until you stepped in. Any chance you’d accept a . . . retainer, to let the magic continue?”

Hobbs leaned forward, rubbing his hands together. “The question I must ask, Mr. Schumacher, is this: Precisely how much is your brother’s happiness worth?”


The apartment above Arnie’s Electronics was shabby but clean, a description that also served for Arnie’s wife. We sat at their kitchen table pretending to drink weak, tepid coffee from cracked mugs.

“I still can’t believe they were bank robbers,” Arnie said. “I saw you leading those guys away, and they looked like kids. I mean, who but kids would wear their jeans belted down around their knees?”

“All part of their disguise,” Hobbs said, “and no small factor in their ability to elude the authorities. Those desperados are wanted in seven states, and you have performed a great service in bringing about their capture. And it will please you to know they have already received new suits of clothing—bright orange prison uniforms.”

Hobbs hefted a large suitcase onto the table and popped it open. Inside were bound stacks of crisp hundred dollar bills.

“The reward offered by the FBI,” he said, “totaled one million dollars. It is yours, with the compliments of your government.”

Arnie stared, his mouth working but emitting no sound. His wife began to cry.

I felt my own eyes welling up, and steadied myself with a swallow of bad coffee.

Arnie found his voice. “A million dollars. You may call it justice, Mr. Hobbs, but I still call it magic. This time, however, I will not complain. But you and your friend did all the work. You must take half.”

I choked on my coffee. By the time I could breathe, Hobbs was already shaking his head.

“Your generosity is overwhelming,” he said, “but we must decline. The by-laws of the Consulting Detectives Union are quite strict in cases of this sort. The most we are allowed to accept is one percent.”


Two weeks later, we got a postcard from Hawaii, first stop on the Schumachers’ round-the-world cruise. Arnie was officially retired, and shedding the skin of his old life.

Things were going well for me too. With my share of the ten grand, I’d hired the two computer geeks to work part-time at my shop. Business was booming.

“Quite satisfactory,” Hobbs said. “Everyone appears to be living happily ever after.”

“Just like a fairy tale,” I said. “It’s almost enough to make me believe in magic.”

Hobbs snorted and turned to find his pipe.

I just smiled. Hobbs’ head was swelled enough already, so I had to be careful with compliments, but I was pretty sure Arnie was right. There had been magic at work.

The magic of Skyler Hobbs.


© 2011 by Evan Lewis

This story will soon appear in a new fairy tale crime anthology from Untreed Reads, edited by John Kenyon.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Skyler Hobbs and the Yuletide Terror

“This, my dear Watson, is a tale for which the world is not yet prepared. I fear it must be relegated to that battered tin dispatch-box of yours.”

“Wilder,” I said, looking up from my laptop, “not Watson. And I wouldn’t know a dispatch-box from a box of Honey-Nut Cheerios. Go smoke your pipe and let me concentrate.”

Grumbling, my friend Skyler Hobbs took up his calabash pipe, filled it from the Persian slipper that held his tobacco, and settled into his favorite chair. The room was soon engulfed in a pungent blue haze.

It’s not easy, you see, being the roommate of a guy who thinks he’s the second coming of Sherlock Holmes.

Hobbs was probably right about the story. It was sure to cause panic in the media and get us both thrown in the slammer, but something deep within compelled me to write it down. So I did.

I had never thought of Skyler Hobbs as a big fan of Christmas, but this year he’d insisted on going downtown to Pioneer Courthouse Square for the annual lighting of Portland’s official Christmas tree. I tagged along to keep him out of trouble. Or so I hoped.

Hobbs gazed up at the monster tree. “This 75-foot Douglas fir,” he informed me, “has been strung with 15,000 lights of the LED variety, meaning they are extremely energy-efficient.”

“Don’t tell me you’ve gone green.”

“Just because I am an old soul, Doctor, does not mean I cannot be socially responsible.”

The square was packed shoulder-to-shoulder with people clutching Starbucks cups and delicacies from the Honkin’ Huge Burrritos cart. Their attention was focused on the stage occupying the northeast corner of the square, where members of the Oregon Symphony, the Pacific Youth Choir and the wildly popular band Pink Martini had assembled to lead us all in Christmas carols. Individually, any one of those groups would have been great, but together they were a mess. No wonder so few people were singing along.

As usual, Hobbs seemed able to read my thoughts.

“I had not taken you, Doctor, for such a scrooge.”

“Just because I make a living as Jason Wilder - Computer Doctor,” I said, “does make me a doctor. As for being a scrooge . . . ”  I gave it up, because he was no longer listening.

He was focused instead on a large, dark-clad woman worming her way toward us with an old-fashioned baby carriage. Her head was wrapped in a shawl, and most of her face was lost in shadow. The carriage stopped several feet away, where two other ladies turned, cooing, and bent for a look inside the hood.

The dark-clad woman shooed them off. “Sleeping!” she yelped. Her voice was high-pitched, and her accent odd.

Hobb’s brow furrowed.


“Quite recently,”  he said, “that woman had a heavy beard and mustache. In short, she is not a woman at all.”

Before I could stop him, he sidled forward and said, “A Merry Christmas to you, madam.”  All politeness, he doffed his deerstalker hat, but it slipped from his fingers and fell to the brick plaza.

Instantly, Hobbs swooped down to retrieve it, practically burying his face in the bed of the carriage.

The “mother” shoved him away. “Sleeping!” This time the odd voice was tinged with anger.

As Hobbs rose, the guy turned the carriage and pushed it away from us, forcing the crowd to clear a path.

Hobbs stiffened. “Quick, Doctor. There is evil afoot. I must stop that man.”

I grabbed his coat sleeve as he moved away. “Why?”

“He has abandoned the carriage!” he said. “It is imperative that you retrieve it.”

Then he was off.

I followed, cursing under my breath. Hobbs was nuts, no doubt about it, but I’d learned to trust his instincts, even if it mean risking a kidnapping charge. Grabbing the carriage, I shouted, “Baby coming through! Wet diapers!” and the crowd, full of good cheer, parted before me.

Reaching the sidewalk, I found the surrounding streets bare except for police cars and a good number of stern-faced patrolmen. The hooded man was now half a block away, with Hobbs in hot pursuit. I hurried after them.

At the next corner our quarry yanked a cell phone from his pocket, and held it up to dial. When he glanced back, his eyes skipped over Hobbs, fixed on me and went wide as goose eggs.

The big man spun away, and seemed about to dart across the street. But a big Tri-Met bus came roaring past, forcing him to wait. This delay was all Hobbs needed. He sprang onto the guy’s back, trying to drag him down.

I parked the carriage and dashed forward to help, but the hooded guy had already flung Hobbs aside and charged blindly into the street, straight into the path of another bus.

Man and bus met with a meaty crunch, and the guy flopped to the blacktop. I grimaced as the big wheels thumped over him, crushing his skull like an eggshell.

“Come, Doctor! Quickly!” Hobbs took the carriage in one hand, grabbed my arm, and hustled me away from the pulpy mess.

A full block later he turned a corner and stopped the carriage, peering back around at the scene of the accident.

“The police have arrived,” he said, “but we are not pursued. We must return to your automobile and depart at once.”

I held my ground. “Not until you tell me what’s going on. Do you know the penalty for kidnapping a baby?”

In answer, Hobbs flung the carriage blanket aside, revealing a small, pink form in baby clothes. But was not a baby at all. It was a doll. And beneath the doll, under another blanket, sat brick after brick of a substance resembling mozzarella cheese.

“What the hell?”

Hobbs tapped his nose. “When I buried my nose in the carriage, I found none of the telltale scents of an infant. Instead, I detected the odor of the explosive commonly known as C4.” He took hold of the carriage again and pushed on up the street.

“C4? You sent me bouncing down a sidewalk with a cartload of C4?”

“I assure you, Doctor, you were in no danger. The explosives were set to be ignited by a call from our late friend’s cell phone.”

“My God, Hobbs. That guy was going to kill thousands of people. We have to tell somebody!

Reaching the next corner, we had a view of the square, two blocks away. Voices chanted, “Three, two, one …” and the huge tree came alive with all of it’s 15,000 energy-saving lights, and a great cheer went up.  The crowd began singing, I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas.

“Would you tell those good souls of the horror they nearly faced? Now, when they are gathered in the spirit of peace and goodwill?”

I didn’t know what to say.


Back at 221B SW Baker St, Hobbs said, “We bear a heavy responsibility. I must consider it carefully.” And with that he curled up with his pipe, immune to conversation.

I planted myself in front of the TV, trying to ignore the carriage full of explosives parked just inside the door.

I must have dozed, because suddenly Hobbs was there beside me, and the eleven news was on.

“Tonight,” the news lady said in frantic tones, “the FBI foiled a plot intended to kill thousands at Pioneer Courthouse Square. After a year-long undercover operation, nineteen-year-old Somalian immigrant Mohamed Mohamud is now in custody. Authorities say that when Mohamud tried to ignite a truckload of phony explosives with his cell phone, federal agents swooped in. An FBI spokesman assured us they were in complete control of the situation, and the crowd was never in real danger.”

I discovered my mouth was hanging open. I turned to Hobbs. His was too.

“A decoy,” he said. “The FBI was taken in by a decoy, while the true bomber escaped their notice entirely.”

I reached for the phone. “We have to tell them,” I said. “And the media. You’ll be a hero.”

Hobbs yanked the phone from my hand.

“No. The public can never know. The citizens of our fair city would be afraid to leave their homes, and the spirit of Christmas would be irretrievably tarnished.”

That night, Hobbs strapped the C4 to concrete blocks, wheeled the carriage halfway across the Ross Island Bridge and dumped the package over the side into the cold waters of the Willamette River.

Hobbs was right, of course. Going public with the story would cause panic and probably get us thrown in the slammer, but I couldn’t help myself. I grabbed my laptop and started typing.

Hobbs let out a laugh.

I looked up at him. “What?”

“I am quite aware, old friend, that you plan to submit a narrative of this case to Davy Crockett‘s Almanack of Mystery, Adventure and the Wild West.”

“And you’re okay with that?”

Hobbs got his pipe going and let out a cloud of smoke. “I have made inquiries. That publication caters to aficionados of the most lurid sort of popular fiction. If the editor chooses to publish so wild a tale, who would ever believe it?”


© 2010, 2012 by Evan Lewis

A shorter version of this tale originally appeared on Do Some Damage, as part of their 2010 Christmas Noir celebration.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Skyler Hobbs and the Man Who Smiled at Death

“The widow spoke the truth,” Skyler Hobbs said. “That fellow looks positively gleeful.”

The subject of Hobbs’ remark sat to our right and one pew ahead, beaming like he’d won the Megabucks lottery. His eyes glowed a brilliant blue behind his thick spectacles, and gold-capped teeth glinted through his bristling white beard. The other funeral goers had cleared a wide space around him, focusing their attention in other directions.

“He looks happier than SpongeBob SquarePants,” I said. “Maybe he’s just nuts.”

“A distinct possibility, Watson, but I sense deeper waters here.”

“Wilder,” I said. “Jason Wilder, Computer Doctor.” But I knew it was pointless to correct him. Skyler Hobbs, you see, thinks he’s the second coming of Sherlock Holmes, and that I’m his Dr. Watson.

Organ music swelled, and from a room behind the choir came Hobbs’ client, Mrs. Charles Winkleman, dressed in a slinky black shift. Though her face was drawn, she was remarkably good-looking for a woman on the plus side of sixty.

She’d come to us two days before, and Hobbs was instantly intrigued. Her husband had perished in a grease fire while working his burger wagon on the downtown bus mall. The police had found no sign of foul play, and the widow had just begun to grieve when the smiling man appeared. She saw him outside the funeral parlor, in the meat department at Zupan’s Market, and in Mt. Scott Park while walking her wiener dog. She even saw him standing outside her house, just watching and smiling like the devil. And each time she’d tried to approach him, the fellow simply scurried away.

There was something oddly familiar about him, Mrs. Winkleman declared, but could not put her finger on it. And she had come to fear for her safety.

Watching the old coot’s reaction to the eulogies, I couldn’t blame her. When the preacher declared the Lord had His own reasons for taking the deceased into His bosom, the guy beamed as if he’d just been named King of the World, and when Winkleman’s sister broke into tears over a poignant tale, the guy actually licked his lips and chortled.

When it was finally over, we followed Mr. Happy up the aisle and down the hall to the reception, where a somber crowd munched stale cookies and conversed in low tones.

Hobbs paid special attention to an easel displaying photos of the deceased. He’d been a smooth-faced fellow with close-cropped hair, and in the shots where he wasn’t wearing sunglasses, he displayed remarkably blue eyes.

Hobbs turned from the easel looking enormously pleased with himself.

“So,” I said, “you’ve got it figured. What’s the poop?”

As was his habit, Hobbs wasted no time with explanations. Crooking a finger, he weaved a path through the mourners and planted himself before the smiling man. “So,” he said, “I perceive you have been quite enjoying yourself today.”

The fellow nodded with enthusiasm. “Quite.”

“Liked the eulogies, did you? Reveled in the grief expressed by Winkleman’s friends and relatives.”

“I did.”

The widow, I saw, had now entered the room, and stopped to watch the confrontation.

“And I suppose you think I find that odd,” Hobbs said.

The fellow beamed. “Don’t you?”

“Not at all,” Hobbs said, “for I have discovered your secret. You, sir, are Mr. Charles Winkleman in disguise!” And with that, he grabbed the guy’s whiskers in both hands and yanked.

The man stopped smiling. His mouth formed a huge O as he let loose a scream.

Hobbs looked astonished to see the beard still attached to the guy’s face. Then he gave a howl of his own, as the man kicked him in the shins and began pummeling him about the head.

Releasing the whiskers, Hobbs thrust his right leg backwards and cocked an arm in a peculiar manner.

I jumped on Hobbs' back, pinning his arms. I’d recognized the stance of the exotic martial art he called baritsu, and was afraid the bearded man would be seriously injured. As Hobbs struggled, the old guy continued to rain blows upon him until the widow’s sharp cry blistered our ears.


Hobbs stopped struggling, and the old man seemed to deflate. He folded up on himself, trying to avert his face.

“What’s the meaning of this?” Mrs. Winkleman snapped. “This man is not my husband!”

Hobbs seemed incapable of speech.

After a moment, the old man mumbled, “No Mabel, I’m not. But I’d like to be.”

She stared at him, a riot of emotions flitting across her face. At last she reached out, removed his thick spectacles, and brushed the scraggly hair aside. A small gasp escaped her lips.

“Harold?  Is that you?”

“Who else,” he said, “has waited forty years to claim your hand?”

“Just as I suspected!” Hobbs declared. “Madam, you may expect my bill in the post.”

And though Hobbs was eager to go, I refused to budge until I got the whole story. The two had been high school sweethearts and were parted when Harold was sent to Viet Nam. He’d returned to find Mabel married to Charles Winkleman, and pined for her ever since. On hearing she’d been widowed he could not contain his joy, but had feared to approach her directly.

He needn’t have. Mabel was clearly pleased to see him, and I had a feeling this same church would soon be ringing wedding bells.

“So,” I said later to Hobbs, “you had that figured, did you?”

“Indubitably, Doctor. But since there was no way to prove it, I had to trick him into a confession.”

“A pat answer,” I said. “But I was watching your face when that beard stayed put, and you were the most surprised man on earth.” 

It was Hobbs’ turn to smile. “You flatter me, Watson. But you are correct. The stage lost a fine actor when I turned to a career in crime detection.”


© copyright 2010 by Evan Lewis

For more adventures of Skyler Hobbs and "Doctor" Wilder, click HERE.

This tale was an entry in Dan O'Shea's "Mystery in Church" Flash Fiction Challenge.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Skyler Hobbs and the Man Who Couldn't Fly

“Watson, look!” Skyler Hobbs pointed over my shoulder, his eyes distended. “That woman is a man!”

“The name’s Wilder,” I reminded him. “Jason Wilder.” Careful not to look, I turned him around and aimed him toward the airport security checkpoint. “This is Portland, Hobbs. We take pride in our diversity.”

“But, Doctor—”

“Computer Doctor. Now put your shoes in that plastic tub. You’re next.”

With a deep sigh, he complied. I sighed too. It would be a miracle if I got him past security, let alone onto an airplane. My friend Skyler Hobbs, you see, has never flown. You could hardly expect less from a man convinced he’s the reincarnation of Sherlock Holmes.

His shoes removed, Hobbs stood facing a fat man in Transportation Security Officer’s uniform.

The TSO looked at Hobbs’ feet. “Where’s your other sock?”

“Pinned to my fireplace, of course. Holding my shag tobacco."

The officer wrinkled his nose. “You’ll have to remove that leprechaun hat. And the horse blanket. Both go in the tubs.”

I steeled myself for trouble. Hobbs was quite proud of his deerstalker cap and Inverness cape.

“This is not mere raiment,” Hobbs said, “but part of my persona.”

“In the tubs,” the fat man said, “or you don’t fly.”

Hobbs glared back at me, his meaning clear. This was my fault. I was the one who’d sold the story of our first adventure to Ellery Queen, and no sooner had it appeared than a wacked-out dowager in Omaha had wired us first-class tickets, insisting we fly out to find her lost Chihuahua. Hobbs had balked, of course, but I’d reminded him that both our bank accounts were on death’s door.

Hobbs was unbuttoning his cape when he went stiff as a pointer, aimed a finger and said, “Look!”

As the security officer turned, Hobbs darted through the metal detector and slipped past him. The fat man scrambled after, shouting for assistance.

In an instant, three other TSOs joined the chase. But Hobbs stopped short, thrust his hand into the pocket of a traveler tying his shoes, and plucked out a plastic flask. “Inflammable liquid!” he crowed. “You’ve been derelict in your duty.”

The officers all scowled. One snatched the flask and sniffed it. "Bourbon." 

As the offender was hauled off for a cavity search, the fat TSO jabbed a finger at Hobbs. “One more stunt, and you’re on the No-Fly list.”

Hobbs stared back at him, refusing to be cowed. In the time I had known him, he had never betrayed a hint of fear.

“Back to the metal detector.” The man grabbed Hobbs by the arm. “We’re trying this again.”

Hobbs took one step. Then his head swiveled toward a busty blonde in a tight red sweater. “Wait!” Before the officer could react, Hobbs broke free and galloped toward the woman, arms outstretched.

And time seemed to stop. TSOs and travelers alike froze in astonishment as Hobbs’ hands closed upon the blonde’s ample bosom.

The woman shrieked, and time kicked into high speed. Security officers pounced on Hobbs from all directions, but he clung tenaciously to the woman’s breasts, and the whole crowd went down in a squirming heap.

A TSO yanked a Taser from his belt. I found my wits and dashed forward, yelling, “Stop!”

This got everyone’s attention just long enough for Hobbs to shout, “Look, Watson! She’s a man!”

“Wilder,” I said. But so she was. The blond wig had popped loose in the struggle, exposing a buzz cut. One breast perched on a shoulder, while the other dangled from an armpit.

The officers all stared, bewildered.

“Hobbs,” I said, “I told you this is Portland, and we—”

“Your diversity is all well and good,” Hobbs said. “But this fellow’s brassiere is stuffed with high grade cocaine.”


The guards who’d escorted us to the parking lot waited with hands on their holsters.

I fired up the PT Cruiser. “How did you know?”

“She had an Adam’s apple.”

“Not that. About the coke.”

“His nostrils.” Hobbs tapped his nose. “Caked with white crystals.”

“But you couldn’t have seen that until you’d grabbed him.”

“Let’s be underway, shall we?” Hobbs was smiling now, looking contented for the first time since we’d received the tickets. “I am quite famished after all that exercise.”

I stared at him. “You—you didn’t know…” I might have said more, but he was gazing out the car window, ignoring me.

And it suddenly came together. He hadn’t known about the coke. He’d thrown that wingding on purpose, because he wanted to be put on the No-Fly list. He was not quite as fearless as he seemed. Skyler Hobbs was afraid to fly!

I got the car moving. “What do we tell your client in Omaha?”

“Tell her she reads too many detective stories. And to look for her lost Chihuahua at the nearest Taco Bell.” He extracted the unused boarding pass from his pocket and waved it under my nose. “Tell me, Doctor. Are these tickets redeemable for cash?”


© 2009 by Evan Lewis

Note: The tale that so inspired the Omaha dowager appeared in the Feb. 2010 issue of EQMM. Hobbs and Wilder's second adventure, "Skyler Hobbs and the Rollback Bandit," appears in the Untreed Reads anthology, Discount Noir.

This story was written for the Steve Weddle Memorial Airport Flash Fiction Challenge, sponsored by Dan O'Shea of Going Ballistic.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Davy's Jukebox: Texas John Slaughter (made 'em do what they oughter)

Those Disney series always had great theme songs. Davy, Zorro, Andy Burnett, Swamp Fox, Elfego Baca. Heck, even Johnny Tremain. And Texas John Slaughter was no exception. This 1958 version by the  Sandpipers, with Jimmy Carroll and Orchestra, is no exception. Sing along, you Buckaroos.

TEXAS JOHN SLAUGHTER by Jimmy Carroll and the Sandpipers

Friday, April 22, 2011

Forgotten Books: The Sherlock Holmes Book of Quotations

Want to know what Sherlock Holmes had to say about his "art," his knowledge, cases, rivals, philosophy, music, crime and the Fair Sex? Of course you do. This slim hardcover volume, published back in 1980 as an entry in The Sherlock Holmes Reference Series by Gaslight Publications, makes it easy.

And that's not all. Another section is devoted to the words of Dr. Watson, and several more pages list the best quotes by third party characters. I read the book straight through, and though I've read the complete canon at least a couple of times, there were many quotes I'd forgotten. All were interesting or illuminating.

And while this book makes good reading just for the heck of it, if you happen to be writing (as am I) a novel about a guy convinced he's the reincarnation of Sherlock Holmes, it's dang near invaluable.

An example of Holmes on his "art":
      "Circumstantial evidence is occasionally very convincing, as when you find a trout in the milk, to quote Thoreau's example."

On his knowledge:
     "What the deuce is it [the Solar System] to me? . . . You say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or my work."

On his cases:
     "There is nothing more stimulating than a case where everything goes against you."

On his personal habits:
     "I never remember being tired by work, though idleness exhausts me completely."

On his "Boswell":
     "I must admit, Watson, that you have some power of selection, which atones for much which I deplore in your narratives. Your fatal habit of looking at everything from the point of view of a story instead of a scientific exercise has ruined what might have been an instructive and even classical series of demonstrations. You slur over the work of utmost finesse and delicacy, in order to dwell upon sensational details which may excite, but cannot possibly instruct, the reader."

Finally, here's a sample from the section called "Sherlocution":
     "You then went to the vicarage, waited outside it for some time, and finally returned to your cottage."
     "How do you know that?"
     "I followed you."
     "I saw no one."
     "That is what you may expect to see when I follow you."
Holmes and Doctor Leon Sterndale

More Forgotten Books at pattinase!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Mother Goose Goes Hollywood: The Lowdown

When I posted this 1938 cartoon the other day, I casually inquired how many stars you folks could spot. Little did I know that eagle-eyed Art Scott was looking in, and he spotted a whole passel of them. There were at least ten I couldn't put names to, and a couple I didn't recognize at all (including Spencer Tracy!)

Here's the list, roughly in order of appearance:
Kate Hepburn
Hugh Herbert
Ned Sparks
Joe Penner
D. Duck
Chas. Laughton
Spencer Tracy
Freddie Bartholomew
WC Fields
Charlie McCarthy
Stan Laurel
Ollie Hardy
Eddie G Robinson
Greta Garbo
Eddie Cantor
Cab Calloway
Wallace Beery
Fats Waller
Stepin Fetchit
Edna Mae Oliver
Mae West
Zasu Pitts
Clark Gable
George Arliss
Fred Astaire
Joe E Brown
Martha Raye

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

EQMM/AHMM Story Videos by Stephen Ross

Hey, here's something really cool. YouTube videos promoting mystery short stories.

I recently read stories by Stephen Ross in these two issues (both great, by the way), and discovered he'd posted videos for them. And according to the blurb in one of the mags, he even composed the music.

The Ellery Queen story, "The Man with One Eye," would have been a great entry for one of the Damn Near Dead anthologies. And the Alfred Hitchcock tale, "Monsieur Alice is Absent," is one of the five Edgar nominees for Best Short Story of 2010.

Best of luck to you, Mr. Ross. And keep those videos coming!

Here are links to the vids:
The Man With One Eye
Monsieur Alice is Absent

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Overlooked Films: Mother Goose Goes Hollywood

 Here's a wacky one from 1938. How many stars can you recognize?


Tune in to Sweet Freedom for more Overlooked Arty-facts.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Davy's Jukebox: Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee Drinkin' Wine!

There are many fine versions of this song (one by Jerry Lee Lewis comes to mind), but this 1996 effort by Nappy Brown and Kip Anderson is the one that best rocks my house. Davy and I invite you to unscrew the cap of your favorite brand - be it Ripple, Bali Hai or Mad Dog 20/20 - and join the party.

Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee by Nappy Brown and Kip Anderson

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Friday, April 15, 2011

Forgotten Books: Marx Western Playsets - The Authorized Guide

When I was a kid my favorite toys were cap guns (and they still are). But my second favorite things were Marx playsets like these. I had Walt Disney's Official Davy Crockett at the Alamo set (of course), and the Zorro set, and the Roy Rogers ranch. I also had non-Western sets like The Civil War, and WWII, and one with knights vs Vikings. At some point, of course, my mother either threw them in the trash or hauled them to a thrift store. I've since managed to reclaim a few bits and pieces, but short of winning the lottery I'll never own the complete sets again.

So, for guys like me, Jay Horowitz wrote this cool book, which was published in 1992. Along with the great photos, it has a history of the Marx company, profiles of the men who made the toys, info on how these sets were manufactured, and lists of what each set (and each variation on each set) included. There's way more in this book than even I'd ever want to know.

The heyday for this stuff was between 1955 and 1965, but the company was still making some of them, on a more limited basis, up until 1978. Complete sets like these, with the original boxes, command astronomical prices.

The official Fess Parker figure is visible just to the left of the top of the gate,
in front of the hitching rack. 

The two rarest pieces of this set are the plastic cave (far right, in the full set photo), and the fragile plastic stairs and balcony on the commandante's office.

Yep, that's Rip, Rusty and Rin Tin Tin guarding the gate.

That's Roy standing with a raised pistol next to the gate. I'm surprised we don't see Dale or Pat Brady in this set. They appear in others.

This is one of the rarer sets. It was issued only once, in 1959. The Lucas McCain figure is especially hard to come by.

This set came with two Ranger figures, seen here flanking Tonto. How can he be the Lone Ranger when there's two of him?

If you have any of this stuff cluttering up your attic, you're invited to donate it to the Lewis Museum. I'll display it with a plaque proudly bearing your name.

Forgotten Books are brought to each week by Patti Abbott. Check 'em out HERE.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Prince Valiant Vol. 2: 1939-1940

Volume 2 of the new Fantagraphics series begins with Val battling the Vikings to win back his father's kingdom. It's a real smackdown, but once over, peace ensues, and Val is soon bored. In search of adventure, he heads for Europe, where the rest of this volume takes place.

Foster weaves a lot of real history into these stories. While rescuing peasants and villagers from the onslaught of the Huns, Val and his friends unknowingly assist in the founding of Venice. On a visit to Rome, they witness the assassination of Rome's last great general (and are blamed for it), then witness the retaliatory assassination of the last Emperor, Valentinian (and are blamed for that too).

Amazing as the artwork in Volume 1 was, it just keeps getting better. I would love to see some of this original art. Anyone know a museum with pages on display?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Art Gallery: Dime Detective

The other day, Laurie Powers, Queen of the West, told us about the new Dime Detective Companion coming from Altus Press. I'll have more to say when my copy arrives. Until then, here are a couple more covers:



More Dime covers HERE

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Overlooked Cartoons: Music Land (1935)

One of the coolest cartoons ever made, thinks I, in which the Land of Symphony and the Isle of Jazz go to war. (Not to be confused with Disney's 1955 animated feature of the same name.)

More Overlooked Entertainment links at Sweet Freedom.

Monday, April 11, 2011


It's true. Today is International Louie Louie Day, and since this is Davy's second favorite song. we're celebrating.

Why today? Well, mainly because April 11 is the birthday of Richard Berry, the esteemed author of the song. For lots more on Louie Louie Day, and lots more on all things Louie Louie, click HERE.

I, of course, have many favorite versions of the song, but my top two at the moment are the screamers below, by the Sonics and Iggy Pop. First, though, a little history lesson, which features me banging on my guitar (but not singing - that's the multi-talented Drew Bentley of Omaha, NE).




Friday, April 8, 2011

Forgotten Books: Secret Agent X - A History by Tom Johnson & Will Murray

I was privileged to visit Rick Robinson’s new reading room recently, and among the wonders were three beautiful volumes of Secret Agent X adventures published by Altus Press. Yes, I was jealous.

I do, however, have a fistful of X reprints in various formats from Corinth, Hanos and Adventure House. And I have this cool book published in 1980 by Robert Weinberg as Pulp Classics #22.

It’s sort of a shock these days to open a book and find it set completely by typewriter, but it seems appropriate, because the authors of these pulp adventures would have used one of those same quaint gizmos to compose the stories.

This book tells you dang near everything you could ever want to know about “The Man of a Thousand Faces.”  Chapters deal with:
- The creation and development of the character and the magazine
- X’s weapons, training, abilities and alter-egos
- Main and supporting characters
- The novels - authors, plot, location, characters, etc.
- Villains and deadly females
- The authors - Paul Chadwick, Emile C. Tepperman, G.T. Fleming-Roberts, Arthur Leo Zagat and R.T.M. Scott
- Captain Hazard
- Fill-in stories

There really is a ton of information here. 96 pages of small type with a scattering of black and white cover images. If you’re thinking this would make the perfect companion to the Altus Press series, you’re right.

Even better, a new revised and updated edition was published in 2007 as The Secret Agent X Companion, and though I haven't seen it, I don't doubt it's much prettier.

The images below were borrowed from the always amazing Galactic Central.

Need a Forgotten Books fix? Patti Abbott has the dope HERE.