Saturday, October 17, 2020

"Out Back" - A Slice of Hard-Boiled Flash Fiction by Yours Truely

 A while back I wrote a short story and submitted to a website devoted to crime "flash fiction," a tale in under 750 words. It took a while to get back to me and it got rejected. That's the way it goes. I've long since stopped taking rejection that seriously; there's so much of it going around, it's not worth the energy. You move forward and keep your nose to the grindstone and take criticism from trusted sources. Being a filmmaker you get used to rejection and grow to figure out that the taste of the gatekeepers varies wildly. One short film may go gang-busters and win awards in some festivals and get quickly rejected at other. So, taking it personal is just something you stick on yourself. Film-making, like writing is a acquired skill culled from producing work and there's enough nay-sayers outside, keep your interior self pure of heart and high of hopes.

But as the gatekeeper to this blog I HOLD THE POWER. MUHAHAHA! ANd I think it fits nicely in this blogs purview.

Plus I was going to give it away for free to them, might as well just post it here instead of sitting on my hard-drive. So here's a little homage to Gold Medal books, just imagine a cover with a sultry babe on it, a hot car and the foreshadowing of dread.

Out Back - 

I put the bead at the end of the shotgun’s barrel on the dude and squeezed the trigger back. Without looking I hustled on past him. My ears rang, my heart broke, and my feet hurt in my shoes on the hard pavement. 

The back door of the joint came open with a slick shoed foot, and I put the bead on the open-door frame. I didn’t have to squeeze; someone shot the man wearing the slick shoes, and he fell on out.  

Damned it was hot, my palms were sweating and pooling in the gloves at tips of my fingers. I kept the pump-gun aimlessly at the back door. 

Bap. Bap. Bap. Gunshots from inside came at me. I closed the gap between me and the interior of the nightclub. The night air went silent for a long second. A shadow slid into the mass of light at the back door, and I fired again.  

It was a cocktail waitress in a short skirt. I got her good, but she wasn’t quite dead. I pumped the gun and tried to remember how many shells I had left. Where the hell was he?  

The cocktail waitress looked at me through eyes with too much blood in them. She breathed once, twice, three times then coughed up nearly black blood and died. I kept one eye on the door and the other on the alley. No one else came into the web I had spun yet, but I was ready. 

The fire escape whined above me under the weight of a fat man in a florid suit. I swept the shotgun up at him. He saw me through the grates of the escape and fat feet. Men with money standing over me. The story of my life. I was rewriting things as I went. I triggered it and sparks flew when the lead hit the metal. Enough hit his foot for him to yowl and lose his balance. Then he tumbled over the edge of the fire escape and crash though a squat trashcan with a wet groan and a nasty snap.  

Guns went off inside again, I saw our partner Don through the kitchen window. He had his mask on and the cooks lined up against the wall. He turned his head to look at the sound of guns; one of the cooks spun and got him high in the neck with a carving knife and then got his carbine. I almost fired through the window, but instead I slunk back into the shadows of the alley. Getting killed by a fry cook would help Don none.  

Now he was the only one left inside. I told him we needed more guys, but his head was hard and he wouldn’t listen. The result was a damned blood bath.  

Tires squealed in front of the place. More guys. More guns. And sirens in the distance. The roadhouse wasn’t far enough from town for someone to miss all these guns blasting. My gun was nearly empty, and someone was moving fast through the backdoor.  

I saw his smile and knew we were home free. He had a bowling ball bag that I knew was full of cash and his .45 in his hand. He spun and fired at the fry cook behind him and when he turned back there was a bang and the back of his head popped with a lucky shot. He fell flat, and I rushed toward him. My last shell got quick revenge. I had to break his fingers with the butt of the shotgun to get the bag free from his dead hand.  

The car was still running, and I got to it fast and the nightclub was in the distance before I knew it.  

Down the road I pulled over, stashed the shotgun and the bag in the trunk. I got back in the car, adjusted the girls, and checked my lipstick in the mirror. Primo. I popped a shirt button to be sure, toed off my heels, and worked the pedals barefoot. Then I grinned on down the road.  

Yeah, if I got stopped, I could wiggle my way out of it. 

"The Night of the Shadow" By Maxwell Grant (Dennis Lynds) & The Avenger: "The Back Cariots" by Kenneth Robeson (Ron Goulart)

For some reason when the wind starts blowing colder I get in the mood for pulp, now I mean actual pulp stories that appeared in the 10 cent wonders that where the pulp magazines. Maybe its the gloom of of the cool of the air and darkness that sets in, makes me think of The Great Depression when the pulps ruled. As a kid my taste for pulps was developed by countless re-watching of the Indiana Jones movies, tied in with movies like "Flash Gordon," "The Rocketeer," The Phantom," and "The Shadow." I actually knew of the Shadow before the 1994 movie, via a two-VHS collection of trailers and a documentary on the cliffhanger movie serials. Where I saw wonderful bits of serials, Batman, Captain Marvel, Commando Cody, etc. etc. I was a weird kid, okay? But they all seemed so fast, and action-packed and thrilling with evil looking baddies and damsels in distress. They looked exactly like what a 10 year old boy would want to see. Which I mean, is exactly what they were. I soon fell in love with the books. I read a mess of them, but until a couple of years ago I hadn't really read any of the pulp heroes what with my time being spent on hard-boiled crime and Men's Adventure, but you need the fantastic every now and then so I dipped my toe back in and been dipping it in every now and then.

"The Night of the Shadow" is the first Shadow novel I have read in maybe ten years. My older self's pulp-taste runs toward The Spider, the Avenger, Operator #5, Secret Agent X and G-8. Doc and The Shadow seem to get lost in the mix. Dennis Lynds got me to check this entry out. He's writer who always puts out a good book whether its under his name or not. 

The 60's incarnation of The Shadow is a representation of the pulp tastes of the time, just as the original one was to the taste of the 30's. Here The Shadow acts more like an active Waverly from "Man From U.N.C.L.E." with his companions acting like UNCLE agents. It's an overall odd mix of styles of pulp, the over-the-top near-super powers of The Shadow and the Bond-Mania flavored villain plot. It doesn't have the mystic quality that Walter B. Gibson brought to the character, Gibson's interest in magic somehow gets in between the lines of the books setting a prefect atmosphere. The magic quality of the speed and the twisty-turning narrative is something melds perfectly together. There will never be a moment in time again that is ripe for the kind of writing. Lynds take on the character is certainly what would have appealed to the readers of the 60's, but as Gibson's work is pretty timeless the 60's version is a bit more bland. The villains have a cool pulpy-evil plot involving weaponized organic warfare, but they themselves are forgettable stock characters. Lynds goes through the motions with other fun stuff like kidnappings, assassinations, the never-full secret pockets of The Shadow's suit that holds his whole costume plus a bucket-load of guns, etc. etc. it just never seems to kick into high gear. There's enough good stuff in here that I will read the other Dennis Lynds novels in the series, just with a few of Gibson's before. Dennis Lynds has a mountain of great work to read with his Dan Fortune novels, Kane Jackson and his work writing for Mike Shayne and Nick Carter.

Ron Goulart picked up the Kenneth Robeson mantle to continue The Avenger series in the 70's, but they wise chose to keep the setting in 30's. Goulart gets a bad rap sometimes, I dunno why. I've always enjoyed his work whether it's his own series like his John Easy P.I. series, his humorous Sci-Fi novels, editing of anthologies or licensed work with Vampirella, Flash Gordon and The Phantom. His short story collection, "The Ghost Breaker" is a absolute blast, a fun take on the whole occult detective bit. He's an acquired taste I suppose, leaning into the humor more then some might like. He's obviously a student of pulp fiction, cliff-hanger serials, newspaper strips and the like and he can write the hell out of them. Paul Ernst created "The Avenger," AKA Richard Benson and his team of crime-fighters originally, though he shared Kenneth Robeson with Lester Dent for Doc Savage. If your not familiar with The Avenger it is in conception a mish-mash of The Shadow and Doc Savage, originally with a neat gimmick that Benson's "stone face" could be molded into anyone for a endless variety of disguises. It was later dropped when the pulp hero racket was waning.

His Avenger stories (and most of his work) are "light entertainment," they breeze on by and the pace never lets up, he build character through dialog both internal and external witty banter. The action is frequent and very much of the movie serial variety. He leans a lot on the character of Cole Wilson who was a later addition to the crime-fighting team of Richard Benson. In a lot of ways Wilson is the classic Ron Goulart character quick mouth, capable but not infallible. It's easy to see why he chose to have Wilson and Nellie Grey, the Emma Peel of her day get stuck together a lot of the time and bicker and blunder into the fantastic plots. Only to have The Avenger working his own way and swooping in to save the day with the help of the rest of the team. "The Black Chariots" are basically rocket-powered spy planes and the inventor (there's always a wayward inventor in pulps) is missing. The Avenger's team gets roped into the case and solves with with machine gun fights, aerial battles, escapes, sieges and the like. It's not going to change your life, but it's a very solid entry. Though Goulart's Avenger tales "The Cartoon Crimes," and "The Purple Zombie" are hands down the most fun taking place within the newspaper comic strip industry and the movie industry, respectively. 

Books like these keep the pulp-hero concept alive in lean years, now there's a whole boom of New Pulp, with new characters, refreshed old characters and more continuations of beloved characters in books and comics. It's a good time to like the genre. I suppose its tied into the dire times we live in being a bit like the dire times of The Great Depression, escapism is a wonderful thing.