Saturday, April 9, 2016

A MacDonald Duo

John D. MacDonald (JDM) was, in his lifetime, a publishing institution who consistently turned out thriller fiction (especially that featuring Travis McGee) of the kind the reading public seemed to crave, selling nearly 500 short stories (in all genres) and dozens of novels, some of which were filmed. Below are two of his crime fiction shorts in their initial periodical manifestations.

"Who's the Blonde?"
By John D. MacDonald (1916-86).
First appearance: Collier's Weekly, August 9, 1952.
Reprinted in EQMM, May 1957 and Ellery Queen's Anthology #56, Summer 1987.
Filmed for TV in 1955 (HERE).
Short short story (5 pages).
Online HERE.
(Note: Some text smudged.)
"He was four thousand dollars short, and the cops had it figured out. They said he wrapped the bills and shoved them across the counter to the girl."
Bank teller Tom Weldon doesn't know it, but he's about to experience the worst day of his life.

Principal characters:
~ Tom Weldon, window three: "He had the crazy feeling that maybe he had been hypnotized somehow into thinking four thousand dollars were fifty ones."
~ Helen Weldon: "They say women aren't logical. That's the only other place it could go!"
~ Durand, senior police detective: "A stocky, nervous, bright-eyed man with thick white hands that were in constant motion, plucking at his suit, ruffling his hair, pulling at his ear lobes."
~ Harkness and Lutz, detectives: "They clumped heavily down the stairs. Tom heard one of them chuckle at something the other one said as they went out the front door."
~ Vic Reisher, the chief teller: "Vic ran his tapes, then straightened up slowly. His eyes were cool."
~ Judson Fergol, window two: "A thin-faced, quiet man about Tom's age, who handled money with an almost dazzling manual dexterity."
~ Arthur Maldrick, window four: "He was one of those big, plodding, ponderous young men who seem to have been born middle-aged."
~ Elvinard, the bank examiner: "There was no—ah—diversionary attempt."
In this one JDM crosses over into Woolrich's nightmare noir territory:
It gave him a feeling of acute helplessness. You went along thinking that if somebody ever tried to persecute you, mess up your life, kick you around, you were a citizen and you could call the cops. Get a lawyer. Get an injunction or something. But who did you yell to when it was the forces of law and order sitting on your chest, making your wife cry, ruining your hopes and your chances and your future?
Of this tale Steve Scott writes:
"Who's the Blonde?" was originally published in the August 9, 1952 issue of Collier's. Running 5,000 words, it's a typical John D. MacDonald "howdunit," although this time we also have a rare MacDonald whodunit. And like every good whodunit, there are clues scattered in the early text that reveal the bad guy for anyone with a careful eye. It's a fun, interesting story, one where the "how" is more of a surprise than the "who," and one where MacDonald's typically-impeccable research shows up in lots of nice little details. — Steve Scott, "Who's the Blonde?", The Trap of Solid Gold (WARNING: SPOILERS on that page—be sure to read the story first).
Speaking from his own personal experience, however, Scott also tells why, despite all of those brilliant details, the narrative isn't as realistic as JDM might have hoped.
~ ~ ~
"Dead on Christmas Street."
By John D. MacDonald (1916-86).
First appearance: Collier's Weekly, December 20, 1952.
Reprinted in EQMM, January 1971.
Anthologized in Mystery for Christmas and Other Stories: From Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (1990), Murder Most Merry (2002), and The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries (2013).
Short short story (7 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE.
"The big, brassy brunette was the cops' only witness. She hadn't jumped or fallen—and of course no suspect had given her a shove."
With a willing eyewitness to bolster his case, A.D.A. Daniel Fowler believes he has—or did have—enough to get a conviction; he summarizes what happened for his boss:
"October. Five o'clock one afternoon, just as the loan office was closing. Three punks tried to knock it over. Two of them, Castrella and Kelly, are eighteen. The leader, Johnny Servius, is nineteen. Johnny is Vince Servius' kid brother.
"They went into the loan company wearing masks and waving guns. The manag-er had more guts than sense. He was loading the safe. He saw them and slam-med the door and spun the knob. They beat on him, but he convinced them it was a time lock, which it wasn't. They took fifteen dollars out of his pants, and four dollars off the girl behind the counter and took off.
"Right across the hall is the office of an accountant named Thomas Kistner. He'd already left. His secretary, Loreen Garrity, was closing up the office. She had the door open a crack. She saw the three kids come out of the loan company, taking their masks off. Fortunately, they didn't see her. She went into headquarters and looked at the gallery, and picked out Servius and Castrella. They were picked up. Kelly was with them, so they took him in, too. In the line-up, the Garrity girl made a positive identification of Servius and Castrella again. The manager thought he could recognize Kelly's voice.
"Bail was set high, because we expected Vince Servius would get them out. Much to everybody's surprise, he's left them in there. The only thing he did was line up George Terrafierro to defend them, which makes it tough from our point of view, but not too tough—if we could put the Garrity girl on the stand. She was the type to make a good witness. Very positive sort of girl."
"Was? Past tense?"
Principal characters:
~ Daniel Fowler:
   ". . . one of the young assistant district attorneys, was at his desk when the call came through from Lieutenant Shinn . . ."
~ Loreen Garrity:
   "She took a high dive out of her office window—about an hour ago. Seventeen stories, and right into the Christmas rush. How come she didn't land on somebody, we'll never know. Connie Wyant is handling it. He remembered she figured in the loan-company deal, and he told me. Look, Dan. She was a big girl, and she tried hard not to go out that window. She was shoved. That's how come Connie has it. Nice Christmas present for him."
~ Lieutenant Gil Shinn, of the Detective Squad:
   "Nice Christmas present for the lads who pushed over the loan company, too. Without her, there's no case."
~ Lieutenant Connie Wyant, someone you do not want to underestimate:
   "Me, I wish it was just somebody thought it would be nice to jump out a window. But she grabbed the casing so hard, she broke her fingernails down to the quick.
   "Marks you can see, in oak as hard as iron. Banged her head on the sill and left black hair on the rough edge of the casing. Lab matched it up. And one shoe up there, under the radiator."
~ Thomas Kistner:
   "As they opened the door, he glanced up quickly. He was a big, bloated man with an unhealthy grayish complexion and an important manner. He said, 'I was just telling the sergeant the tribulations of an accountant'."
~ Jane Raymer, the D.A.'s secretary and, to Dan, something more:
   "She was a small girl with wide, gray eyes, a mass of dark hair, a soft mouth. She raised one eyebrow and looked at him speculatively. 'I could be bribed, you know'."
~ Jim Heglon:
   ". . . the district attorney, was a narrow-faced man with glasses with heavy, dark frames. He had a professional look, a dry wit and a driving energy."
~ Vince Servius:
   ". . . a compact man with cropped, prematurely white hair, a sunlamp tan, and beautifully cut clothes. He had not been directly concerned with violence in many years. In that time he had eliminated most of the traces of the hoodlum. The over-all impression he gave was that of the up-and-coming clubman."
~ Paul Hilbert:
   "A burly, diffident young man came in. He wore khaki pants and a leather jacket. 'I'm a plumber, Officer. Central Plumbing, Incorporated'."
On his site dedicated to JDM (again, beware of SPOILERS) Steve Scott tells us:
JDM was a self-declared agnostic, and I can only guess that Christmas wasn't a big deal in the MacDonald house. "Dead on Christmas Street" . . . really has little to do with the holiday. It's a straightforward tale of crime solving that happens to take place during the Christmas season, and I'm tempted to surmise that the setting was dictated by an editor, who may have wanted a Christmas theme for his December 20th issue.  . . .
It's a well-crafted, enjoyable mystery story, but not necessarily one that's going to put you in the Christmas spirit.
Resources:
- By now you should know the drill: Wikipedia HERE, the GAD Wiki HERE, FictionMags HERE, the SFE HERE, the ISFDb HERE, and the IMDb HERE; in addition there's much more about John D. MacDonald at The Thrilling Detective HERE and The Trap of Solid Gold tribute site HERE.

The bottom line: "At this season of the year, more than ever, we must not deprive those we love. Or even those to whom we are married."
Henry Baker

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