Headline Ghouls

 

The further adventures of Maxi & Moxie

 

Teel James Glenn

 


 

Copyright 2012 By Teel James Glenn, all rights reserved.

No portion of this novel may be duplicated, transmitted, or stored in any form without the express written permission of the author.

 

Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.

 

This is a work of fiction. All characters, events, and locations are fictitious or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or people is coincidental.

 

BooksForABuck.com

March 2012

 

ISBN: 978-1-60215-171-0


Dedication:

To a wild Canadian girl who came to be my Maxi out of nowhere…

And to David Burton who has gone ahead of me to the great beyond; hold that place for me in the non-drinking section of Valhalla…

 

Acknowledgements:

I couldn’t have done this without my source of sources Liz who always gives me the inside scoop and my Texas Muse Janis again who keeps believing.


Index

 

Foreword: The World of Maxi and Moxie

 

The Flashback Floozy

 

The Morgue File Blues

 

The Looking Glass Gambit

 

Meet Mister Alchemy


Foreword: The World of Maxi and Moxie

Welcome to the 1930s pulp magazine world of Maxi and Moxie.

 

Pulp Magazines

Pulp magazines were named because of the cheap wood pulp they were produced on. They reigned supreme from the 1920s, well into the late 1940s with their sensationally garish colored covers and daring purpled prose within.

The ‘Bloody’ pulps ran the gambit from Range Romances, to Battle Aces, Gangster Molls and Fantastic Planetary Stories; but it was in the areas of detective and heroic fiction that they soared the highest.

Black Mask, the high watermark in gumshoes, gave us Phillip Marlow, Same Spade, the Continental Op, Race Williams, Oscar Sail and countless variations of the first and truly American deductive champions.

 

The Hard-boiled Private Eye

No Effete Raffles or Lord Peter Wimsey, these guys (and gals) were the hard workin’ blue collar heroes, tryin’ to make a buck and do the right thing. Cowboys in a concrete world, they rode an urban range and routed bank robbers, securities rustlers and Wall Street murderers with an old fashioned code of justice that owed as much to Ivanhoe as Bill Cody.

They may have been ‘Hardboiled’ but they were by no means hard hearted, anything but; always a sucker for a sob story or a ‘dame in distress.’ They would face impossible odds time and again to do the right thing.

Meanwhile (as they say), back on the magazine racks, a phenomenon occurred: the Hero Pulp was started by Street and Smith publications; a company with a long history in periodicals (including dime novel hero Nick Carter.) The company decided to embrace the new medium, radio, with The Street & Smith hour, where a narrator would read stories from their detective magazines as an extended commercial for the book. As a gimmick, they named the narrator ‘The Shadow, with no thought to any other effect than to make the stories a bit spookier. No biggie, or so they thought.

Soon however, letters poured into the publisher wanting to know more about this mysterious host. The publisher, W. A. Ralston and Editor John Nanovic, quickly decided to rush a magazine titled, “The Shadow” into production to protect a potentially lucrative property.

They had no idea who or what the Shadow was, but they knew just the right guy to write it: a magician/journalist cum pulp writer named Walter Gibson.

It was the perfect marriage of man and material: Gibson (under the house name of Maxwell Grant), created a fascinatingly dark & mysterious crusader who, with his army of aides and agents, fought a constant war against the forces of gangdom.

The magazine was an instant hit, selling out month after month so consistently that Street & Smith began to print issues every other week and Gibson, in heroic pulp writer tradition—kept pace churning out, eventually, over two hundred and fifty Shadow novels at the astounding pace of one every three to four days!

Other publishers jumped on the band wagon with lesser ‘dark avengers’ over the next few years: George Chance—The Green Ghost, The Green Lama (of the Tibetan variety), The Black Bat, The Red Mask, Street & Smith’s own The Whisperer, and the most successful and colorful of all The Spider.

None equaled the heights The Shadow achieved in the ensuing decade of the hero pulp.

Street & Smith tried to catch lightening in a bottle a second time in 1933 with a counterpoint to their dark Avenger in a bronze crusader named Doc Savage.

No lurker in the shadows this time, the good Doctor was a science based good guy who did his combat with evil in the naked light of public exposure.

Once again, the perfect man was hired to guide this champion’s fortunes under the house name of ‘Kenneth Robeson’: Lester Dent.

Dent was an ex-telegrapher and inventor, a world traveler and very much like his literary child. Many lesser Titans followed in Doc’s wake—Capt. Hazzard, The Avenger, Thunder Jim Wade, Captain John Fury, The Skipper etc., but none held a candle to the metallic man’s success.

Just as the dime novel was eclipsed by the pulp, so also did the magazines evolve into digests and paperbacks.

Many pulp characters appeared directly, or strongly influenced, their comic book off-springs as well. Most notably the Man of Steel Superman owes much to the Man of Bronze, Doc Savage.

A few of the pulps limped along as digests and a vast number of pulp stories, novel length and the short stories, were reprinted into paperback form. Thus, an era was disappearing.

This is where I come into the story directly. In 1964 Bantam Books began to reprint the Doc Savage books with dynamite James Bama covers (the pulp had ceased publication in 1949) aiming, and rightly so, at the growing science fiction market. To say it was a phenomenal success would be an understatement. It caused a resurrection of many of its pulp brethren and inspired scores of imitators and pastiches.

Doc was my first conscious contact with the pulp world. I soon discovered the very active pulp fan community, among which Tom and Ginger Johnson’s ‘Echoes’ stands out even today; along with Paul McCall’s Aces, and Howard Wright’s Bronze Gazette, these were my portals to the past.

Some say the pulp era was a more innocent time, but I think it was just a time with different priorities and ethics. Values that to this day I find alluring and inspiring.

I made up my mind then to visit that time through characters who lived there. Not someone else’s characters (there is a whole school of writing which ascribes to writing new stories of old characters which is well and good when continuing the official continuity as Will Murray has done with his exceptional Doc Savage stories—but otherwise, I feel it is a little sacrilegious and somewhat like poaching).

I visited the era with my generational dark hero “The Skullmask” and the stalwart larger than life hero in Dr. Shadows, the Granite Man. But there was another strain of hero that I wanted to explore. The Dime Mystery ‘reporter of the unusual’.

The so-called weird menace pulps began with the first weird menace title which was Dime Mystery. It started out as a straight crime fiction magazine but in 1933 began the slide to the new sub-genre of the actual horror fiction that was popular in the other magazines decorating the stands. This cul-de-sac of terror’s style generally featured stories in which the hero was pitted against evil or sadistic villains, with graphic scenes of torture and brutal murder. It spawned a host of imitations (some from the same company such as Horror Stories, Terror Tales, Spicy Mystery, Thrilling Mystery and a few short-lived single-character pulps that ‘dipped into the weird menace pool’ such as Doctor Death, The Mysterious Wu Fang, The Octopus and ultimate crossover when The Mysterious Dr. Satan ran in Weird Tales. The "mystery" in the title of many of these magazines was often a misnomer as these pulps went far afield from the mystery genre, often with supernatural threats and mad scientist villains.

The fighting Donovans in the volume you hold are my answer to these investigators of the unusual, where the crimes are just a little off center and the villains might just as easily be bent on world domination, or making mystical power grabs as just bumping off an old spouse.

Maxi and Moxie Donovan are people of their time, grounded in the day to day yet encountering all the weird and evil the world has to offer. Regardless of what they face, they know they have each other to depend on, and after all, what more can anyone want?

So like the movie heroine once said, “Fasten your seatbelts, it looks like it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

 

Teel James Glenn,

Union City NJ. 2/23/12


Dateline: Hollywood 1938

 

The Flashback Floozy

Prologue: Under the Red Hood

The chanting was the first thing the victim heard when he woke up. It echoed off the walls of the old barn so that he couldn’t tell how many voices were raised in invocation.

The words were in some old tongue that sounded vaguely Germanic but wasn’t exactly German.

It didn’t really matter: the victim couldn’t talk Kraut anyway, but he knew they weren’t singing nursery rhymes.

The poor soul was tied up on a table of some sort, buck naked and feeling like an idiot. He had walked into a buzz saw with his eyes open looking for a handout when the truck pulled up outside the Hoovertown where he had been camping and got his ears pinned back by a bunch of jack-booted jackasses.

The victim let his head roll over to the right to look in the direction of the guttural voices and wished he hadn’t. There were a dozen figures dressed in long robes with hoods on them so that it looked like a bunch of rogue monks in red had come a calling.

The robes where covered with strange symbols the only ones the bound man recognized were swastikas.

There was one whose robe was brightest red and who was a bit taller than the others. His face was shadowed, but his voice was a deep one.

“I see you are awake, Mister Collins,” he said. The bound man knew the voice and would have kicked himself if he weren’t tied up. It belonged to the one who had offered him the ride to work and food. Then there had been a foul smell and suddenly Collins woke up in his current predicament.

“You will now come to know the true power of the German Reich,” Mister Hood said, “The secrets of the old sciences that will serve as example of how we will sweep away the weak and sickly races of the world and make the way for the glorious Aryan race to return to prominence.”

The masked man spoke in a declamatory voice as if announcing his plans to the group rather than Collins.

The bound man cursed and commented on the hooded man’s circumstances of birth.

This made the goose stepper unhappy and he stepped forward and backhanded Collins across the chops. The hooded man’s eyes narrowed with anger and then widened with humor.

“You hope to goad me into killing your outright,” Collins’s captor said. “I will give you a more exquisite and slow death. I will change you to a form that better suits your station as a beast.”

Collins tried to protest again but the hooded figure had produced a dagger and with a flourish raised it high above his head.

“No!” Collins yelled but his cry was drowned out by the increase volume of the chanting and cut short when the gleaming blade flashed down and plunged into his bare chest, ending his life.


Chapter One: Not the Picture of Health

My part in this story began like most of my stories of late—with a body. Only this body was five feet three of female pulchritude poured into a red sheath dress and was still breathing. And talking.

“I need your help sleuthing, Moxie.” She had an urgency to her southern drawl. I knew that drawl well, and I knew her. She was known on the silver screen as Gloria Laredo, sultry Latin star, but when we had dated in Kansas City she had been Maria Caligento. She had sultry eyes the color of ebony and ‘kiss-me’ lips that Garbo could be jealous of. I remembered those lips.

“Why my help, Miss Laredo?” I asked. The name is Michael Aloysius Donovan, aka Moxie. Maria aka Gloria and I had been an item for almost a year when I was on the crime beat and she had been doing dinner theatre. It wasn’t as serious for her as it had been for me, but then, ‘the beat’ was my first love so I wasn’t so heart broken when she went west to make her fortune that two bottles of Scotch couldn’t sooth my shattered ego. As it was, I went east and found fame, fortune and spouse in the Big Apple’s dirty streets.

“Why not go to Turner or Marlow or one of the two dozen private dicks here in Lala land? I’m just a news hack and not even for the same studio you’re under contract to. I’m not a detective.” We were in my little shack on the Universal Pictures lot that I had inherited from the previous studio publicity man, my pal Jimmy Sangster.

“Because I don’t want any of them, especially a wolf like Turner, seeing this, Moxie.” She pulled a glossy photo out of her handbag and plunked it down on my desk.

I leaned in to take a gander and my peepers almost jumped out of my head.

The black and white photo had obviously been taken from a frame of movie film blown up. It showed two people doing the horizontal mambo in clear enough detail to show that one of them was Maria. It was the kind of image you normally only saw at a smoker—graphic in the extreme.

I sat back, blew air out through my clenched teeth and did my best to tear my peepers from the photo to look up into her pleading eyes. I had no doubt it was not a faked photo because I recognized a birthmark on her left breast and… uh… various other features I remembered from our romps in Kansas.

“Blackmail?” I asked.

“Yes.” She said in a whisper. “Four weeks now.”

“You’ve paid out money?”

“Ten thousand dollars,” she said. “All I have; he promised to give me the negative of the film but he never has. And every week there has been another note asking for more money.”

I shook my head in disgust. Blackmail was a dirty business and the extortionist almost never gave up their ‘trump’ no matter how much the victim paid. Worse than lawyers.

“How much footage could he have?” I asked in as clinical a fashion as a wolf like me could manage. ”Is there more of this?”

Her face colored and she snatched the photo back to put in her bag. She seemed hurt that I wasn’t knocked out of my chair by the pornographic image of her but frankly they didn’t get her good side. Plus you learn to develop a thick skin in the news business. I did kind of wish she’d left the photo out, though.

“More than enough,” she said. “The man in the photo was my first boyfriend when I came out here to California. We were together for almost a year and… and then I caught him cheating and broke up with him.”

“So there could be more than one film?” I felt like a heel asking but if I was gonna help her—and yes, old softy Donovan had already decided to help—I had to have all the info I could get.

“No!” she blanched at the thought. “The—the other photos I was sent were all from this same night. Our last night together. It is the only time we—we were intimate at his studio.”

“A photographer?”

“A producer of low budget films.” She said. It was hard for her to force the words out and she looked away from me to stare out the window to the back lot. “He told me he cared for me—”

“I remember saying the same thing.” I didn’t mean to be bitter, but some old wounds were deeper even than Scotch.

“…But when I caught him cheating I knew he was just using me so I left him.” She did her best to ignore my childish jab. Good for her.

“And how long ago was that?”

“Three years,” she said. “I went on to a contract at Paramount and it’s pretty hush-hush, but now I’m about to sign a principal contract with M.G.M. There will be a lot more money.”

“Good for you,” I said trying to mitigate my cad remark. “I knew you were on the way up.”

She took my offer of truce and continued her story. “I also have become engaged.”

“To Randy Scott?” I was really surprised by that—as a press flack for the studio I had to keep up on the gossip; I knew she had been seen in a number of nightspots with the tall handsome star.

She laughed. It was the first time I’d seen the bubbly expression on her I remembered. It looked good on her.

“No,” she said. “Randy is sweet—a real gentleman, but he—uh—well, actually he married Marion Somerville last year but the studio kept it quiet. He’s fine with that.”

“So it was the usual snow job, huh?”

“Yes a studio publicity set up,” she said, “My fiancé is Karl Schmidt.”

“Of the aircraft Schmidts?”

“Yes,” she said. “We’ve been dating for a year quietly and that’s fine with us too.”

I opened my bottom draw and pulled out some single malt and two glasses. When I offered her one she looked like she was going to say no and reconsidered. I poured two fingers for each of us and clinked glasses with her in a silent toast to old and new times.

She shot hers back like a lost soul in the desert taking her first drink of water. I nursed mine awhile.

“I’m not being a wisenheimer on this, Maria,” I said. “But what do you want from me, exactly? You know the guy who’s doing this?”

“But I don’t” she insisted. “The man in the picture is Stan Young.”

“He headed Resilient Pictures, didn’t he?”

‘Yes,” she said, “Mostly cheap westerns; that… that photo was taken in an office that was often used as a set.”

“So hire a Private Eye who is more muscle than brains and have him leaned on.”

“I would have if it was that easy, but Stan died last year in a car crash.”

“Oh, I see,” I said though I didn’t really, not clearly. “Someone got his secret stash and decided to use it with your star in ascendancy.” I swirled the booze in the glass and studied the patterns in it.

“I don’t know.” She held out her glass and I refilled it. “All I know is that if this gets out my career is over; the morals clause in the studio contract you know, but more important Karl will leave me.” She threw the drink back and coughed. “I—I look like a whore!”

The cough turned into a sob and the sob opened the floodgates. In a moment she was letting the full waterworks show loose.

I remembered her pretty well from Kansas City and I had never seen her cry except on the stage so it was a shock to see it in the real world.

I shot my drink back, popped out of my chair and came around the desk to grab her so she could cry it out on my shoulder.

And that is how my wife found us when she burst through the door.

No good deed goes unpunished.

 

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